St. Patrick's Day as we know it is more of an American holiday than an Irish one. In the 18th century, Irish immigrants to the United States celebrated their common heritage on the holiday dedicated to Ireland's patron saint.
Parades marking the occasion can be traced back to 1737 in Boston and 1762 in New York, although these were much simpler than they are today.
Back then, St. Patrick's Day was not celebrated by most Americans. The holiday — and the Irish immigrants — were scorned by their neighbors.
In the 1800s, brutal Penal Laws enacted by English rulers, coupled with the epic Potato Famine in Ireland, forced thousands of Irish emigrants to seek refuge in the United States. Between 1820 and 1920, 4.5 million Irish citizens emigrated to America. Most arrived with little but the clothes on their backs.
In response to the massive influx of Irish immigrants, the Ku Klux Klan and the Know-Nothings, a national political party popular at the time, began to promote anger toward the Irish. Many job advertisements ended with the line, "No Irish Need Apply."
Time changed the public sentiment. After helping build New York's Erie Canal, Irish-Americans became fixtures in education and politics. The election of Irish-American John F. Kennedy to the White House in 1960 was an important step in the assimilation of the Irish community. Today, Kennedy is only one of many prominent Americans with the look of the Irish.
Since it was first celebrated here more than 200 years ago, St. Patrick's Day has grown in strength and popularity as a national cultural holiday. Many believe the celebration — often marked by intoxication — goes overboard.
Since the 1700s, St. Patrick's Day has been a celebration of community and camaraderie. So whether you're drinking Guinness or grape juice, get together with friends and have fun.