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What is St. Patrick's Day?

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Question: What is St. Patrick's Day?
What is St. Patrick's Day really about? Whether you're a newcomer to Canada or just curious about the story behind the annual celebration, learn why Torontonians party every March 17th.
Answer: St. Patrick's Day is an Irish holiday that is celebrated in many parts of the world, including Canada. It takes place every March 17th, which is believed to be the day that Saint Patrick died.

Who is St. Patrick?
Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. There are many stories about him, and sometimes it's not clear which of them are true. What historians do agree on is that he was one of the most successful people who worked to bring Christianity to Ireland, which he did around 400 AD (Learn more from the profile of Saint Patrick on About.com: Medieval History).

How is St. Patrick's Day celebrated in Toronto?
For most Canadians, St. Patrick's Day celebrations are about all things Irish. People wear green, and often go to pubs and parties where they drink beer that has been dyed green and listen and dance to Irish music. There is also a Toronto St. Patrick's Day Parade, but it always takes place on the weekend near St. Patrick's Day, so it may or may not be on March 17th. St. Patrick's Day is treated as a big party in Toronto, and many people who are out at the celebrations don't know who St. Patrick is - they're just there to have a good time.

Do I have to go to work on St. Patrick's Day?
Yes, unless March 17th falls on a day you'd have off anyway. St. Patrick's Day is not a national holiday in Canada or a provincial holiday in Ontario, which means schools and businesses are open as usual on March 17th. In 2012 and 2013 March 17th actually falls on the weekend, so students and those with Monday to Friday jobs will be in luck. Many people who are working but are planning on going to an Irish pub in Toronto ask to leave work early on March 17th, because the pubs often fill up by the late afternoon.

What are the symbols of St. Patrick's Day about?
You may see St. Patrick's Day decorations that include pictures of shamrocks and leprechauns.

  • Shamrocks are a plant leaf and are green with three parts (They are different from a four-leaf clover, which is considered lucky). The shamrock is a national symbol for Ireland, similar to how Canadians use the maple leaf!

  • Leprechauns are part of Irish folklore. Usually drawn as small men with red beards and hair wearing green suits and a hat, leprechauns are thought to have hidden pots of gold. They are hard to catch and are able to disappear in the blink of an eye, but supposedly if you follow a rainbow you have a chance of finding a leprechaun and his treasure. If you're celebrating St. Patrick's Day with kids, explore some Leprechaun Craft Ideas from About.com: Family Crafts. (Learn more of the folklore from The Leprechaun webpage from the National Leprechaun Museum in Dublin, Ireland)

Do I have to be Irish to celebrate St. Patrick's Day? Do I have to be Christian?
Not at all. The joke is that on March 17th, everyone is Irish. And even though the day is named after a Christian saint, there's nothing religious about the celebration in Canada. All are welcome at any St. Patrick's Day celebration - just be prepared to have fun, and preferably be wearing something green!

More Fun St. Patrick's Day Facts for Torontonians

  • From 1919 to 1927 Toronto's National Hockey League team was called the Toronto St. Pats and had green and white uniforms. The St. Pats won the Stanley Cup in 1922. In 1927 new owner Conn Smythe renamed the team after a military unit from World War I, the Maple Leaf Regiment, and changed the team colours to blue and white. (From the Maple Leafs History page on mapleleafs.com)

  • The Canadian Coat of Arms, as established in 1921, includes three maple leaves on the shield. But at the bottom there are four other plants - lillies for France, roses for England, thistles for Scotland and shamrocks for Ireland. (From The Royal Arms of Canada - A Short History on Herladry.ca)
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