Call it simple ignorance, but every year when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, I find myself asking the same question, “Why do people drink on St. Patrick’s Day?” Is it an actual tradition genuinely associated with the holiday? Is it because the Irish just really like to drink? Or is it some widely received misinterpretation of an Irish holiday that has been generally accepted into our Americana culture?
Maybe it’s just the group that I hang out with, but my yearly ventures to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day involves heading to the nearest Irish-themed pub donning some random piece of green garb with the sole purpose of imbibing enough green beer and Guinness to forget the next day. Which is slightly paradoxical, considering I’m not what you would call a “big drinker.”  

Regardless, ultimately I wind up having a drink or two sitting at the bar stirring up random chats with fellow more sober celebrators while friends slam down roughly a dozen pictures of a mossy-colored beverage amongst the 4 of them to which I can only assume is beer. Sober cab, I am.

After a while, I’ll observe with wonderment to the possibility that they simply use St. Patrick’s Day as an excuse to get, for lack of a better description, completely annihilated. Or if in fact they truly are respecting the holiday and the celebrated Irish patron St. Patrick with enthusiastic vigor. Really great enthusiastic vigor…

So, for my own personal sanity, I thought I would do a little digging to see if I could find a reason behind the need to slam down pint after pint of frosty green brew out of merriment beyond what I consider a barely acceptable explanation of “Who cares? It’s an excuse to drink!” So what did I find?

Well first of all, a bit of irony. If you were to look at the traditions, dates, and religious criss-crossings of the entire event, one would notice that St. Patrick’s Day falls during Lent. (Those of a stricter Christian or Catholic lifestyle I’m sure are well aware of this). Considering that Ireland is primarily a Catholic nation and drinking is traditionally a Lent no-no, one would assume that drinking on St. Patrick’s Day would also be a no-no. However, even in the old days local bishops would give the “thumbs up” to let loose for the celebration to enjoy a drink.

Otherwise, quite frankly I really couldn’t find a good explanation for drinking on St. Patrick’s beyond the statement “It’s a festival!” And apparently, I’m not the only one who has come to this conclusion.  Most articles I perused that discussed anything related to St. Patrick’s Day and drinking failed to elaborate beyond the idea that St. Patrick’s Day is a festival holiday. Aside from Irish food and wearing green, Irish drinks, such as Guinness or Bailey’s or any good Irish stout, are enjoyed as part of the celebration. Okay, I guess I can accept that. So explain the green beer.

Well, that’s just to fit in. My guess is that not everyone loves a good Irish stout. So what to do, what to do…? Why not make it green? It’s a simple problem with a simple solution. Which in turn means that there is an excellent chance that the green brew you’ll be tipping back on St. Patty’s Day is actually an American beer on tap with a bit of green food coloring added in for the day. Or blue food coloring, if it’s a really yellow or golden colored beer. I honestly doubt I spoiled a secret there for anyone, though.

I guess when it comes down to it, the simple act of drinking shouldn’t really be the relevant issue, but more so the excessive drinking the often occurs. It’s a festival and to celebrate, food and drink are simply commonplace. Just don’t overdo it. But I’m sure you’ve heard this before.

However, should you happen to know of an authentic reason as to why drinking is such a seemingly important part of St. Patrick’s Day, please feel free to enlighten me. I’d hate to think that this article is to be shelved along side the many other articles I read to only come to the same conclusion as they did. “Why do we drink on St. Patrick’s Day? Why wouldn’t we? It’s a festival!”


– James B. LaPoint

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