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In America, ‘Everyone’ Is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day

President Barack Obama, left, with Vice President Joe Biden, and Ireland Prime Minister Enda Kenny, right, with his wife Fionnuala Kenny, hold up a bowl of shamrocks at the White House Tuesday. Obama is celebrating his eighth St. Patrick's Day in the White House. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
In America- Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day
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St. Patrick’s Day is Thursday, but some Americans started celebrating two weeks ago.

The city of Alexandria, Virginia, held its annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 5. So did three cities in New Jersey.

The holiday is a big deal in America and not only for the 33.1 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry.

Many non-Irish Americans will join Irish friends in wearing green clothes on Thursday. Many will lift a mug of Guinness, the famous Irish beer.

At a Washington, D.C., luncheon this week, President Barack Obama made a note of how big St. Patrick’s Day has become.

“Now, it’s true that it’s not technically St. Patrick’s Day, but that's OK,” Obama said. “Most folks who celebrate it aren’t Irish either.”

The holiday honors Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Patrick lived in the 5th century. He was taken by pirates and kept as a slave in Ireland. After he escaped, he trained as a priest before returning to Ireland.

“Patrick preached and converted all of Ireland for 40 years,” wrote Catholic Online. “He worked many miracles and wrote of his love for God in Confessions. After years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring much suffering, he died March 17, 461.”

Diarmuid Ó Giolláin is a professor of Irish Language and Literature at Notre Dame University in Indiana. He told VOA that St. Patrick’s Day appeals to many nationalities because it is linked to immigrants, or outsiders.

“The Irish came in large numbers, and were Catholics seen as outside the majority Protestant population,” Ó Giolláin said. “I think they found this space of parading their ethnicity and their identity, and this probably made the holiday attractive to all immigrants."

The Irish are known as great storytellers. It is the home of many wonderful writers, including James Joyce and Oscar Wilde.

And at the St. Patrick’s Day lunch Tuesday, U.S. politicians tried their best to tell a few stories of their own.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin talked to Ireland’s Acting President Enda Kenny about a recent family trip to Ireland. Kenny attended Tuesday’s luncheon, as have many Irish presidents over the years.

“While we were there, we walked through a graveyard where our ancestors were buried,” Ryan said of his Ireland trip. “And as we were walking, we came across a headstone with this inscription: ‘Here lies a politician and an honest man.’”

“And my son said, ‘Wow, I wonder how they got the two of them in one grave.’”

Many Americans will observe St. Patrick’s Day with big parades. The largest is in New York City on Thursday, where crowds in the millions are not unusual.

And don’t forget about Ireland.

The capital city of Dublin will also have a big parade on Thursday. The theme is, “Imagine If …” Parade officials say it centers on the imagination of Ireland’s youth as they look to the next 100 years.

I'm Anna Matteo.

Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us and share your plans for St. Patrick’s Day in the Comments Section or on our Facebook Page.


Words in This Story

mug n. a large drinking cup with a handle

patron saintn. a saint who is believed to protect a particular place or type of person

miracle n. an unusual or wonderful event that is believed to be caused by the power of God.

confessionn. a written or spoken statement in which you say that you have done something wrong

endure – v. experience pain or suffering for a long time

graveyardn. a place where dead people are buried.

headstonen. a stone that marks the place where a dead person is buried

inscriptionn. words that are written on or cut into a surface