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St Patrick’s Day Traditions

St Patrick’s Day Traditions

Say St Patrick’s Day, and the color green, leprechauns and shamrocks immediately come to mind.  But, where did this all come from?


The shamrock is the traditional symbol of Irish heritage and culture and is commonly associated with the celebration of St Patrick’s Day.  The four leaf clover, on the other hand, has become the symbol of luck and gave birth to the term “the luck of the Irish”.


While understandably people confuse the shamrock and four leaf clover, and interchangeably use them as symbols of St Patrick’s Day,  these are actually not one and the same. Bet some of you didn’t know that, did you?


A Three Leafed Clover is a Shamrock, But A Four Leaf Clover is Not …..

Legend has it that the shamrock, or the three leaf clover, was used by St Patrick to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans he converted. The three leaves, he taught, stood for the 3 persons of the Trinity - The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. 


They also stood for faith, hope and love.  So, when it comes to St Patrick’s Day, the shamrock is the right clover to use.


The shamrock, however, had been given mystical meaning long before St Patrick came along.  Centuries before, Druids or Celtic priests, used the shamrock in ancient rituals and to ward off evil spirits.  


The number three and the triad had deep spiritual meanings for the Celts.  Like their four leafed siblings, shamrocks, are also believed to bring good luck to those who carry them.


St Patrick’s Day Traditions - So How About Four Leaf Clovers?

Much like the shamrock, four leaf clovers were also Celtic charms believed to offer magical protection, and ward off bad luck and misfortune. They are in fact believed to be so magical that children during the Middle Ages carried them in the hopes of seeing fairies. 


And have you heard of the legend of Eve carrying a four leaf clover as she left the Garden of Eden with Adam to remind her of the wonderful place she had been cast out of as a result of disobeying God. 


Here’s some fun facts about the four leaf clover:

  • You find only one four leaf clover plant in 10,000 three leafed ones.  No clover plants naturally produce four leaf clovers. It is a mutation, an uncommon variation of the three leafed clover.  Because of this, they are rare and not found abundantly compared to the shamrocks. Thus, they are considered lucky.


  • The fourth leaf can be smaller and even be a different shade of green from the rest of the leaves. 


  • If you’re lucky enough to find a four leaf clover, it’s likely you’ll find another.  A clover plant that produces the lucky clover is likely to produce another one compared to plants that produce shamrocks.


  • The 3 leaves of the shamrock stands for love, hope and faith. In the four leaf clover, the fourth leaf stood for luck, of course!


  • For romantics, the meaning for the four leaves of the clover can be found in this poem verse:


“I'm looking over a four-leaf clover

That I overlooked before.

One leaf is sunshine, the second is rain,

Third is the roses that grow in the lane.

No need explaining the one remaining

Is somebody I adore.

I'm looking over a four-leaf clover

That I overlooked before”


  • In 1620, Sir John Melton wrote, “If a man walking in the fields find any four-leaved grass, he shall in a small while after find something good”. This was the first literary reference to the luck that four leaf clovers bring.


  • If you’re wondering where the “Luck of the Irish” came, it must be because you can find more four leaf clovers in Ireland than in any other place. Lucky, right?


Interesting Facts and Beliefs For St Patrick’s Day

Each year, on March 17th, millions all over the world celebrate St Patrick’s Day.  It has become one of the most popular celebrations worldwide. In the US, the celebrations are centered on Irish culture and includes traditions like wearing green, parades and drinking. And of course, feasting on traditional Irish fare including corned beef, corned cabbage, soda bread and more!


Who Was St Patrick?

St Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland but here’s an interesting fact - he was not Irish but was a nobleman from Britain kidnapped by Irish pirates at the age of 16.  


He was an atheist who rediscovered his faith when he became enslaved.  Eventually, he was able to escape to Britain but chose to go back to Ireland as a missionary.  


It was from his missionary work that the legend of using the shamrock to teach the Celts the concept of the Holy Trinity sprang from.


What are some of the interesting traditions people do during St Paddy’s?


Wearing Green. This is known as the wearing of the green to celebrate Irish heritage.  In Ireland, people wear small bunches of shamrocks on their right breast.  The shamrocks are blessed in Church ceremonies all over Ireland by priests.


In the US, this tradition has taken a slightly different route with people going all out wearing green hats, shirts, socks, ties and even shamrock sunglasses to mark the day, 


But what’s with the pinching?


Irish Americans in the early 1700’s believed in the folklore that wearing green made them invisible to leprechauns, those mischievous little bearded men dressed in a coat and a hat. 


They believed that when one didn’t wear green, a leprechaun might pinch them. Thus, down the centuries, it has become part of the St Paddy’s day tradition to pinch anyone who was not wearing green, as a playful reminder that leprechauns are lurking around.  


Parades. Ironically, the first St Patrick’s Day parade did not happen in Ireland but in New York City in 1766. Today, the day is marked with parades the world over. In the US, the cities that hold large parades include Boston, New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Savannah.


In Seattle, the parade route is painted green.  Parade floats and decorations also feature the color.  And you better wear green while watching or risk being pinched!

Beer Drinking. The drink of choice during St Patrick’s Day is Irish stout - lots of it! 


On a typical day, Americans drink 600,000 pints of the brew. However, on St Patrick’s Day, this spikes up to 3 million pints of Guinness!


Many Irish-Americans are Catholics and refrain from drinking during Lent. This year, the start of Lent is March 6 so it has already started by the time St Patrick’s Day rolls around. 


However, Irish American Catholics are allowed to break this fast during the day’s celebrations.  And this is one cause why this day is also associated with heavy drinking. 


Green Water and Green Beer.  For the festivities, Chicago dyes its river green. And in the White House, the fountain also spews green water.  Some bars go all out with green and serve green-dyed beer. 


A Final Sweet Note - A Recipe


To round out this article, we thought it would be nice to end it on a sweet note talking about clover honey.  


We read this somewhere and found it whimsical - “The best clover honey comes from a 4-leaf clover found at the end of rainbow. “.  While cute, the truth is not as magical as this. In reality, clover honey is the most common variety in the market. This honey is collected from bees whose nectar source is clover, of course not necessarily the four leafed kind. 


Clover honey is common because farmers are given incentives to enrich their land to reduce erosion, improve water quality, and provide wildlife habitat. And the best way to do it is by cultivating clover on their land.  Bees love clover and when there’s an abundance, honey also flows. 


While it may be the most common variety in the market, clover honey is nevertheless perfect for everyday use - from sweetening your tea to adding sweetness to your cooking.  It lends itself well to most recipes because of its mild sweetness and smoothness. 


For St Patrick’s Day, let us share with you a traditional Irish Soda Bread recipe using clover honey.  It’s a quick bread that you can enjoy on the day or on any other day you crave something homemade that is easy to make. 


It can be enjoyed in many ways - served with jam and butter, as accompaniment to a hearty stew or as base for a sandwich.

Irish Soda Bread




1/4 cup Clover honey

2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

3/4 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup margarine or shortening

1 tbsp caraway seeds

1/2 cup raisins




  1. Mix together flour, baking soda and caraway seeds in large bowl; cut in margarine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

  2. Stir in raisins.

  3. Add buttermilk and Clover honey to flour mixture; stir to make soft dough.

  4. Turn out onto lightly floured surface to knead 1 to 2 minutes, or until smooth. If dough seems too dry, add a little more buttermilk. If it seems too sticky, add a little more flour.

  5. Shape into flattened round ball and place on greased cookie sheet.

  6. Brush top with additional milk and cut an “X” in the top with a sharp knife.

  7. Bake at 375 F for 40 to 50 minutes, until golden brown and crusty.


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Tags: St. Patricks Day Traditions, shamrocks, 4-leaf-clovers, leprechauns, wearing green