With more than 34 million Americans of Irish (or partially Irish) heritage, it’s no wonder that St. Patrick’s Day is such a big deal here in the U.S. But what do any of us really know about the legendary St. Patrick, or why we celebrate him with parades, parties, and general debauchery?

If you’ve been thinking St. Patrick was Irish (or that St. Patrick’s Day was too, for that matter), well, you’d be mistaken. So before you drink another green beer or don a pair of shamrock shades, let Esurance debunk a few common myths about St. Patrick’s Day.

1. Patrick was Irish

The patron saint of Ireland was not actually born there. Born in Britain (some say Wales or Scotland) in the fourth century, Saint Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates at the age of 16 and taken to Ireland as a slave. He escaped after 6 years, but later returned to Ireland as a missionary and began earning his place in history.

Whatever his goals might’ve been when he returned to the Emerald Isle, he could’ve never foreseen, or even fathomed, that one day he’d be celebrated with green beer, raucous parades, or shamrock glasses.

2. That one about the snakes

Part of Saint Patrick’s legend is the story of him driving all the snakes out of Ireland. It’s a fantastic story and an accomplishment certainly worthy of sainthood … but alas, it’s not true.

According to National Geographic, there were no snakes in Ireland to begin with. This had everything to do with the Ice Age and nothing to do with the slave-turned-saint from Britain.

3. The whole green thing

Every year on March 17, the day Saint Patrick died, we wear green ties and socks and scarves. We drink green beer. We even dye the Chicago River green. Which leads most people to conclude that a) ol’ St. Paddy really liked green, or b) green is the national color of Ireland.

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Well, while Ireland is known for its lush green landscapes, the color originally associated with Saint Patrick was blue. The correlation with green, which started right here in America, stemmed from the lore of leprechauns. Since it was believed that leprechauns couldn’t see green and would pinch anyone they could see, people simply wore green to avoid getting pinched.

4. It’s an Irish thing

St. Patrick’s Day is the one day of the year when all of America is Irish. But the way we celebrate our Irish heritage is distinctly American.

What was originally celebrated as a Roman Catholic feast in Ireland (meaning church and prayer) was turned into something a little … ahem, less modest here in the U.S. The very first parade celebrating the good saint took place in New York City in 1762. But the streets of Ireland didn’t see their first St. Patrick’s Day parade until 1931 — a full 169 years later!

Similarly, while we’ve been wearing shamrock shades and drinking entirely too much green beer here in the U.S. for as long as anyone can remember, the pubs in Ireland remained closed on March 17 until the 1970s.

5. It’s impossible to drink too much green beer

Myth! Don’t be this bloke.

Have fun, lads and lassies! Just remember to keep it safe this Paddy’s Day to avoid really getting “pinched.” Confiscate keys. Designate a driver. Use public transportation. Do whatever it takes to make sure you and all your friends get home safely.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Related link

Celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day Safely [Infographic]

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about Heidi

Heidi brings 11 years’ experience to her role as Esurance’s copywriting manager. Writer, editor, and all around wordsy, she was content when content wasn’t cool. Also, she likes old-school country.