Get Craic-ing: St. Patrick's Day Celebrations without the Clichés

Get Craic-ing: St. Patrick's Day Celebrations without the Clichés

Written by Adam Eli Bernhardt

"For the whole world is Irish on the seventeenth o' March!"
—Thomas Augustine Daly

Affectionately known as St. Paddy’s Day (never say St. Patty’s), it’s estimated that the global consumption of Guinness nearly triples during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, going from a steady, standard 5.5 million to 13 million pints.

Indeed, everyone’s a little Irish on the 17th of March, but what’s all this about?!

What has a saint (uncanonized to boot) from a tiny, rain-ridden island renowned for its pithy, miserable poets and unflinching misanthropy, got to do with one of the most jovial, internationally enjoyed festivities? Why, in the name of Good Gravy, is everything green and cast in Gaelic gaiety? 

You have every right to question the craic, especially if you’re looking for alternative St. Patrick’s Day activities to explore. Skip the same-o’ same-o’ celebrations as we offer up ideas on how to make St. Paddy’s Day one that has meaning for you.

A Wee History of St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations

Deliverer of Christianity, trendsetter of the shamrock, chaser of serpents – this holiday commemorates the death of Ireland’s patron saint and all that he did for them. 

Fair enough, but that still doesn’t explain the international recognition this day receives nor why the world goes up in green, raucous festivities on the day of a saint’s death. You can breathe; you haven't mistakenly been participating in satanic rituals, unwittingly sacrificing your soul at an altar of green eggs and ham. 

Rather, after his death in the fifth century, St. Patrick’s Day was observed by Christians as a religious feast day from as early as the ninth or tenth century. Officially locked into the church calendar by the 17th century, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade (a far more somber occasion) occurred in 1601, in St. Augustine, Florida, thanks to the Spanish colony’s Irish vicar.

With St. Paddy’s Day falling during the penitential observance of Lent, Christians took it as an opportunity for respite from the abstinence practiced during the weeks leading up to Easter. St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were in full swing by the 1700s – steadily veering away from the solemn holiday its founders had in mind.

Green World: St. Patrick’s Day for Non-Irish People

Irish-American St Patrick's Day Celebrations

The Irish Potato Blight in 1845 led to a massive influx of Irish immigrants into the United States in the 19th century.

Once there, the Irish-American population shifted the narrative of this holiday from that of religious observation to a secular celebration of Irish heritage. New York City held its first parade in 1762 and this is now the largest of all St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the world.

Commensurate with its Irish-American origins, much of this holiday’s food (and cultural elements), such as corned beef and cabbage, are not even Irish.


Pass on the Parades: Unique Ways to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

You don’t need to be left feeling green with envy because St. Patrick’s Day is for non-Irish people, too.

Since we’re celebrating the anniversary of a saint’s death—one who was enslaved at 16 years old and who spent six years in captivity on the very island he returned and preached the gospel to—there are no hard, fast rules for the best way to go about St. Patrick’s celebrations.

With a well-earned reputation for their grim “isms” (cynicism and alcoholism, to name but two), there is much more to Irish culture beyond stereotypes.

If you’re not a fan of rowdy bars and parades, here are a few alternative St. Patrick’s Day celebrations to partake in, recognizing the immense impact this tiny island has had on the Western World.


Alternative St. Patrick’s Day Activities 

1. Speak Gaeilge (Irish) for the Day

From leprechauns, langers, and eejits to boycotts, donnybrooks, and Tories, the original Irish language is not only lots of fun to speak but also provides tremendous insight into the evolution of the English language.

Just watch your gob when you’re getting up to all yer shenanigans.


2. Indulge in an Irish Film Festival

Irish Film Festival

What better way to celebrate and commemorate St. Paddy’s Day and the Irish Nation than by watching a bunch of classic movies produced by them? With cult classics such as The Snapper, Darby O’Gill & the Little People, My Left Foot, The Guard, and Martin Scorsese’s bloody look at Irish immigration into America in Gangs of New York, you can certainly make a day of it.
And yes, Daniel Day-Lewis is in at least two of these movies.


3. Shamrock Hunting in the Green

A lovely, secular way to experience St. Patrick’s Day celebrations is to go out and find the greenest space you can find (think forests or botanical gardens) for a shamrock hunt. The three-leafed clover is now officially Ireland’s national symbol, along with the harp.

Find a four-leafed clover and consider yourself bound for good luck!


4. Enjoy Some Traditional Irish Tunes 

When you understand the largeness of Irish culture beyond stereotypes, that’s when the impact they’ve had on general culture will strike you. If you’ve got access to Spotify or YouTube Music, search for traditional Irish music tunes to get the ball rolling. 

Try Sinéad O'Connor, U2, and Van Morrison to get the ball rolling.


5. Lap Up Irish Literature by the Fireplace

A culture renowned for its unshakeable belief in fairytale creatures, myths, and legends, the Irish have rightfully produced some of the greatest writers and poets of all time. Enjoy serene St. Patrick’s Day celebrations by curling up next to a fire with some hot Irish folklore in your hands.

From James Joyce and Samuel Beckett to William Butler Yeats and Oscar Wilde, your fingers will be turning pages in a flurry.  


6. Learn/Play an Irish Instrument

Irish Instruments

There are a variety of exotic instruments that lie at the heart of Irish Folk music and what better day to learn how to play them than on St. Paddy’s Day itself?

From the famous Tin Whistle to the lesser-known Bodhrán, who knows what hidden talents your inner maestro might unveil?


7. Cook and Drink Up a Storm

We’re not referring to dying a bunch of food items green with colourant here; we’re talking cooking up a proper Irish beef stew with mashed potatoes or baking the staple on Irish dinner tables known as brown soda bread.

No matter what you eat, there’s only one drink to wash it down with—that’s Guinness, of course!


Sláinte to All this St. Paddy’s Day

Don’t get put off or feel left out by the green-clad throngs this year, as you now have a list of ways to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day celebrations beyond the flotsam and jetsam.


"Here's to you and here's to me, I pray that friends we'll always be, but if by chance we disagree, the heck with you, and here's to me."
—Irish toast