From 4-leaf clovers to some unexpected history, all you need to know about St. Patrick's Day (2024)

NEW YORK (AP) — If it’s March, and it’s green, it must be St. Patrick’s Day.

The day honoring the patron saint of Ireland is a global celebration of Irish heritage. And nowhere is that more so than in the United States, where parades take place in cities around the country and all kinds of foods and drinks are given an emerald hue.

In fact, it was among Irish American communities that the day became the celebration it is, from its roots as a more solemn day with a religious observance in Ireland.

But even in America, it was about more than a chance to dye a river green (looking at you, Chicago) or just bust out a favorite piece of green clothing, it was about putting down roots and claiming a piece of the country’s calendar.

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Patrick was not actually Irish, according to experts. Born in the late fourth century, he was captured as an adolescent and ended up enslaved in Ireland. He escaped to another part of Europe where he was trained as a priest and returned to Ireland in the fifth century to promote the spread of Christianity.

Several centuries later, he was made a saint by the Catholic Church and like other saints had a day dedicated to him, which was March 17th. He became Ireland’s patron saint, and even when religious strife broke out between Catholics and Protestants, was claimed by both, says Mike Cronin, historian and academic director of Boston College Dublin.


The short answer: Irish people came to America and brought their culture with them. St. Patrick’s Day observances date back to before the founding of the U.S., in places like Boston and New York City. The first parade was held in Manhattan in 1762.

While the day was marked with more of a religious framing and solemnity in Ireland until well into the 20th century, in America it became the cultural and boisterous celebration it is today, marked by plenty of people without a trace of Irish heritage.

From 4-leaf clovers to some unexpected history, all you need to know about St. Patrick's Day (5)

It was because people in Ireland started seeing how the day was marked in the U.S. that it became more of a festival in the country of its origin rather than strictly a religious observance, Cronin says, pointing to the parades, parties and other festivities that are held.

Oh, and by the way, for those who like to shorten names: Use St. Paddy’s Day, not St. Patty’s Day. Paddy is a nickname for Pádraig, which is the Irish spelling of Patrick.


Holidays aren’t simply days to watch bands go by, or wear a specific outfit or costume.

Being able to mark a holiday, and have others mark it, is a way of “putting down roots, showing that you’ve made it in American culture,” says Leigh Schmidt, professor in the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University. “You’ve made your claim on that American calendar, in American civic life, by having these holidays widely recognized.”

From 4-leaf clovers to some unexpected history, all you need to know about St. Patrick's Day (6)

The spread of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the U.S. was a way for Irish immigrant communities, who in the 19th century faced discrimination and opposition, to stake that ground, he says: “It’s a kind of immigrant Irish way of combating nativist antagonism against them.”


A popular sight around the holiday is the shamrock, or three-leaf clover, linked to Ireland and St. Patrick.

The lucky ones, though, come across something that’s harder to find: a four-leaf clover. That’s because it takes a recessive trait or traits in the clover’s genetics for there to be more than the normal 3 leaves, says Vincent Pennetti, a doctoral student at the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. He has been fascinated by the plants since high school.

From 4-leaf clovers to some unexpected history, all you need to know about St. Patrick's Day (7)

Four-leaf clovers “are real. They are rare,” he says.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be found. People just have to keep their eyes open and “get really good at noticing patterns and breaks in the patterns, and they just start jumping out at you,” he says.

Katie Glerum finds them. The 35-year-old New York City resident says it’s not unheard of for her to be somewhere like Central Park and see one. She usually scoops it up and often gives it to someone else, to a positive response.

“If it happened every day, then I probably would be less excited about it,” she says. “But yeah, when it happens, it is exciting.”

From 4-leaf clovers to some unexpected history, all you need to know about St. Patrick's Day (2024)


What do 4 leaf clovers have to do with St. Patrick's day? ›

In the early days of Ireland, Celtic priests known as Druids carried three-leaf clovers, or shamrocks, in the belief that with their help, they could see evil spirits approaching and be able to escape. Four-leaf clovers, then, were Celtic charms, offering magical protection and warding off bad luck.

Why are clovers associated with St. Patrick? ›

Shamrocks symbolize St. Patrick's Day because St. Patrick was a Christian missionary who used a clover to explain the Holy Trinity of Christianity, which is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. He said the three leaves stand for the three beings of God, and the stem shows how they are united into one.

What does the 4 leaf shamrock mean? ›

Additionally, the clover's four leaves represent luck, faith, hope, and love. On the other hand, shamrocks are known as symbols of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Scientifically speaking, it can be tricky to pinpoint the difference between shamrocks and clovers.

What does the four-leaf clover have to do with Ireland? ›

But the clover also has a long history in Ireland. The Druids are said to have believed clovers had magical powers and used them to ward off evil. Even today, the four leafed clover is thought to also bring luck or good fortune as does the shamrock.

What does 🍀 mean in love? ›

are: loyalty, love, luck and hope for the last. 🍀 Wear this lovely multiway (can be worn may ways)

What does each leaf mean in 🍀? ›

According to pagan legends, each leaf has a meaning. The first would bring fame, the second leaf would bring us wealth, the third love, and the fourth health. But in the Christian and Catholic tradition each leaf corresponds rather to a virtue.

What is the myth of the shamrock? ›

Legend has it that, back in the 5th century, Saint Patrick used the Shamrock in a demonstration of the Holy Trinity — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — due to the plant's unique, three-leafed shape.

Is it 3 or 4 leaf clover for St Patrick's Day? ›

Patrick's Day, it's easy to get confused. So, there you have it: the difference between a shamrock and a four-leaf clover. And if you're ever in doubt, just remember: three leaves for Ireland, four leaves for luck.

What is the history of the shamrock? ›

A shamrock is a type of clover, used as a symbol of Ireland. Saint Patrick, one of Ireland's patron saints, is said to have used it as a metaphor for the Christian Holy Trinity. The name shamrock comes from Irish seamróg ([ˈʃamˠɾˠoːɡ]), which is the diminutive of the Irish word seamair and simply means "young clover".

What does the 666 in a shamrock mean? ›

Tattoos and other marks

The image was either a green shamrock (also called, "the rock"), the letters AB, or the number 666. "The brand" meant the inmate belonged to Aryan Brotherhood. Like most prison gangs, Aryan Brotherhood members mark themselves with distinctive tattoos.

Are shamrocks poisonous to cats? ›

Shamrock plants are typically sold close to St. Patrick's Day as a decoration or gift. Said to bring good luck, these green or purple three-leaved plants aren't such a good luck charm for curious pets. If consumed, a shamrock plant (Oxalis regnellii), also known as wood sorrel, can poison your cat, dog, or horse.

How rare is a four leaf shamrock? ›

According to The Weather Network, a four-leaf clover is rare, and difficult to find. A quick Google search said the odds are 1 in 10,000, but a 2017 study says chances are much better, with a 1 in 5,000 chance. Inside Science also reported 1 in 10,000 odds.

What is the spiritual meaning of the shamrock? ›

Patrick used the shamrock to explain the holy trinity with each leaf representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three leaves of a shamrock are also said to stand for faith, hope and love. A fourth leaf is where we get the luck from.

What does the shamrock emoji mean? ›

The Shamrock emoji ☘️ depicts a three-leafed sprig of the shamrock plant. As the shamrock is the national emblem of Ireland, the Shamrock emoji ☘️ is widely used in association with Irish culture, identity, and heritage, especially on St. Patrick's day each year on March 17.

What does the shamrock tattoo mean? ›

From the Burren and across the fens to the Great Skellig, Ireland is dotted with little green emblems of luck. The shamrock has many meanings; luck, love, cultural pride, a ward from evil, the phases of the moon, but whichever one you prefer, these little flourishes of fauna make tight tattoos.

What clover do you use for St. Patrick's Day? ›

A popular sight around the holiday is the shamrock, or three-leaf clover, linked to Ireland and St. Patrick. The lucky ones, though, come across something that's harder to find: a four-leaf clover.

What is the difference between a shamrock and a clover on St Patricks Day? ›

Shamrocks have three leaves and are the symbol of Ireland, while four-leaf clovers have four leaves and are believed to bring good luck. It's a simple distinction, but one that's worth knowing, especially if you're planning on celebrating St. Patrick's Day.

What are the chances of finding a four-leaf clover on St. Patrick's Day? ›

The odds of finding a four-leaf clover are one in ten thousand.

What does it mean when you find a 4 leaf clover? ›

According to Irish tradition, those who find a four-leaf clover are destined for good luck, as each leaf in the clover symbolizes good omens for faith, hope, love, and luck for the finder. A lesser-known fact about four-leaf clovers is that they aren't the luckiest symbol after all.

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