How To Explain St. Patrick’s Day To Kids — Because It’s Not All About Wearing Green

It’s not too hard to get kids excited for the various holidays that occur throughout the year. Mention Halloween is coming, and your kid will already tell you their costume ideas. Talk about Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, and they’ll have their list of presents ready for your perusal. But other holidays (especially those that don’t come with dressing up or gift ideas) can be a harder sell. So if you’re in the month of March and are looking to explain St. Patrick’s Day to kids, here’s what you need to know, because it’s not all about wearing green (although that is important, too).

Depending on the age of your child, understanding what St. Patrick’s Day is and how to celebrate it isn’t too tricky. For little ones, simply grabbing some gold coins, dressing your kid in head-to-toe green, hitting a parade, and eating some green frosted cupcakes should be sufficient. It’s only as they get older that your child might start asking questions like, “Who is St. Patrick?” or (ahem) “Why are you drinking green beer today?” That’s when you’ll need to have the correct information to explain the holiday in ways that they’ll not only understand, but even make it even more meaningful.

“Who was St. Patrick?”

Not every country has their own patron saint, but Ireland definitely does — and it’s St. Patrick. There’s not a lot known about St. Patrick’s life, but some historians believe that his real name is actually Maewyn Succat. It’s thought that the name Patrick was adopted during his later work as a Christian missionary. But get ready to hang onto your corned beef and cabbage, because St. Patrick wasn’t Irish — at all. In fact, St. Patrick was British. When he was a teenager, he became a slave to Irish raiders and spent many years in captivity, during which time he honed his faith.

“Why do we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day?”

Most holidays are associated with certain colors and St. Patrick’s Day is certainly no exception. Because the holiday is so intertwined with Irish culture (and the country is known as The Emerald Isle), it makes sense that people wear green on March 17. It’s also thought that wearing green is a wink and a nod to the shamrock, which is a national symbol of Ireland as well as to the flag itself, which bears one orange, white, and, yes, green stripe.

“Why are shamrocks so important on St. Patrick’s Day?”

Not only are they considered to be the unofficial national flower of Ireland, but shamrocks also hold special significance to the Irish people. It’s believed that St. Patrick used the shamrock (and its three leaves) to explain the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s now become a much-beloved tradition to wear shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day.

“Is St. Patrick’s Day a national holiday?”

It depends where you live. Although it’s not a federal holiday in the U.S., it’s a public holiday in Ireland. That means that schools and workplaces are closed, while (not surprisingly), bars and restaurants are open.

“Do we celebrate St. Patrick’s birth on St. Patrick’s Day?”

Um, no. In fact, March 17 commemorates St. Patrick’s death, unfortunately. Apart from the date itself, not much more is known about St. Patrick’s passing — apparently even the actual year of his death hasn’t been officially determined. It’s thought that it occurred in 493 AD, while others believe that it might have been much earlier, in 461 AD.

“Why do you get pinched if you don’t wear green on St. Patrick’s Day?”

Sure, it’s sweet to celebrate the rolling green hills of Ireland, or the fact that shamrocks play such a pivotal role in St. Patrick’s Day. But the real reason to go green on the holiday is so that you don’t wind up all black and blue. That’s right, you’ll have to be on the lookout for leprechauns, who like to pinch people who don’t don green on St. Patrick’s Day. According to legend, wearing green renders you invisible to these small supernatural creatures.

“Can I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day if I’m not Irish?”

Absolutely. It’s often said that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and that sentiment is to show that the holiday is inclusive to all. So whether you have Irish heritage or not, be sure to include some education in your merrymaking. That might mean taking your child to the library to learn about Irish writers such as James Joyce or even poets like William Butler Yeats. Perhaps it’s teaching your kid how to make their Nana’s famous soda bread or going to your local parade.

If you’re struggling to figure out how to explain St. Patrick’s Day to kids, it’s not too hard. From the food to the festivities, there are so many fun ways to participate in the patron saint’s holiday that honor his legacy while still learning new things about Irish culture — and in a way, ourselves. But ultimately, St. Patrick’s Day is about togetherness and having fun as a family.

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