The traditions and culture of St. Patrick's Day

Updated 9:30 AM ET, Tue March 17, 2015
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St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, but he was actually Scottish. He was captured by raiders as a teen and was taken to Ireland, where he was enslaved for many years. He converted to Christianity during this time and had prophetic dreams about leaving and ultimately saving Ireland. After he was ordained a bishop, he preached the Gospel and converted Irish pagans for 40 years. But he didn't actually drive away snakes from the country, as legend has it. That's because there were never any snakes in Ireland to begin with. Johannes Simon/Getty Images
St. Patrick is said to have used a three-leaf clover to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans of Ireland. The shamrock has been associated with St. Patrick and Ireland since the mid-5th century. Paul McErlane/Getty Images
St. Patrick is known as one of the great Catholic missionaries. Traditionally in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day, people attend church in the morning and pray for missionaries. Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images
St. Patrick's Day often falls during Lent, when many Christians fast. However, the Irish Christians -- and now many people around the world -- take exception for March 17 as they celebrate St. Patrick. Drinking, dancing and feasting are traditional parts of the celebration. Chris Maddaloni/AFP/Getty Images
Although Irish people traditionally wear shamrocks and the colors of the Irish flag (green, white and orange) on St. Patrick's Day, the rest of the world has embraced wearing green. Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images
The Irish have had strong cultural influences on America for centuries. The first St. Patrick's Day parade held in New York was organized by Irish colonists in 1762, 14 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Allison Joyce/Getty Images
Chicago began dyeing its river green to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in 1964. Today, it uses food coloring, which is environmentally safe, to turn the river green. The White House -- and many community centers across the country -- will dye the water in their fountains green to commemorate the holiday. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
The traditional, celebratory Irish meal of St. Patrick's Day is bacon and cabbage. But here in the U.S. and in much of the rest of the world, St. Patrick's Day is celebrated with corned beef. There's even a corned beef and rye sandwich eating contest. Mario Tama/Getty Images
"Kiss me, I'm Irish" is a phrase many St. Patrick's Day revelers use on the holiday. But Irish people have not always had such a loving reception in this country. When Catholic Irish fled the famine in their country in the mid-1800s and came to the U.S., they were seen by some as poor, uneducated drains on the economy who had the wrong religion. But Catholic Irish immigrants soon became a powerful social group in urban centers, and politicians often sought the support of the "Green machine." Mario Tama/Getty Images
Although St. Patrick's Day is deeply rooted in Christian faith, the secular world has adopted the celebration, much like St. Nicholas as "Santa" or St. Valentine on Valentine's Day. The secular celebration of St. Patrick's day often includes leprechaun imagery. Leprechauns are a part of Ireland's pagan roots, which included belief in many gods and supernatural beings such as fairies. Disney's 1959 film "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" was such a hit in the U.S. that it has strengthened the association of leprechauns with Ireland. Matt Cardy/Getty Images