Almost 40 percent of the world’s population celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, according to History.com. But many may not know of the tradition’s social justice and activism roots. With the holiday just around the corner, celebrators can brush up on their Irish knowledge with these four facts.
1. Saint Patrick used to be a slave
Saint Patrick, born in Britain in the fifth century, was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave. After escaping, he dedicated his life to teaching Christianity. Legend states he used each of the leaves on a three-leaf clover to teach the holy trinity of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
2. Newspapers used to make fun of Irish-Americans until they found out about the power of the “green machine”
After the Great Potato Famine in the mid-1800s, 1 million poor Irish Catholics escaped to America, according to History.com. When they celebrated their holiday, newspapers would depict them as “monkey-like” drunks. Irish-Americans found strength in numbers and united to create a voting block, called the “green machine,” that gave them political power.
3. The Chicago River dyeing has environmental roots
In 1962, pollution-control workers used dye to trace illegal sewage discharge in the river. The idea has taken hold and become one of the most memorable Chicago traditions. Now, approximately 40 pounds of “top secret” and environmentally friendly orange powder is poured into the river to make it kelly green, according to the Chicago Tribune.
4. Gay and lesbian groups were prohibited from participating in the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade until this year
New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade along Fifth Avenue had a policy that prohibited gay identification in the parade. The policy caused Heineken and Guinness to pull their sponsorship.
The alcohol companies are returning to the parade after the administration lifted the ban and are allowing just one LGBT group, Out@NBC-Universal, to participate.
The limited policy doesn’t satisfy some New Yorkers, including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who celebrated an alternative St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 2. The performance allowed gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to take part.