St. Patrick’s Day in the USA & Small Talk

Posted On: March 14, 2015

Where I grew up, St. Patrick’s Day was a day that everyone had to wear green. Anyone could observe it. You did not have to be Irish to do so. In fact, I doubt there were any Irish people in the small town I lived in! This post will introduce you to St. Patrick’s Day in the US and tips for small talk with your US colleagues about this holiday. 

When is St. Patrick’s Day? 
Every year on March 17. 

Do I get a day off? Is St. Patrick’s Day a statutory holiday

No. Normally, offices, schools and businesses remain open on this day. If it falls on a weekend day (Saturday or Sunday) and one doesn’t typically go to work or school, then it’s a day off!  

What is the meaning of St. Patrick’s Day in contemporary US?
Well a few of the major stereotypes of this holiday in the US are parades and drinking [green] beer. While this is the predominant thought, St. Patrick’s Day is also observed in schools and offices without parades or alcohol.

I am not sure how many Americans really know the meaning of St. Patrick’s Day. The video below shares some of the history of St. Patrick’s Day from Ireland.

How is St. Patrick’s Day celebrated in American schools? 
Firstly, there is no vacation for St. Patrick’s Day if it falls on a weekday. Kids will attend school on March 17. Whether the 17th falls on a weekend or weekday, school kids may have activities or parties associated with the holiday. While some schools keep it as simple as wearing green, other schools or classes, depending on the teacher, will have the students decorate the classroom with symbols of the holiday and also share some foods that may be dyed green for the holiday. 

Some of the symbols of St. Patrick’s Day include: shamrocks, four leaf clovers, leprechauns, rainbows with a pot of gold,and green top hats. Students may decorate the room with pre-purchased decorations or be instructed to make their own out of art supplies and hang them around the classroom. 

How is St. Patrick’s Day celebrated in the office?
Wearing green is standard at work. Some may go out for lunch and eat some Irish foods, like cabbage and corned beef (if available) or have foods dyed green for the holiday. For instance, we used to have green tinted vanilla milkshakes. If it is after work, colleagues may go out to Irish pubs or bars for beers to celebrate. Beer choices may lean toward Irish brands. To acquaint yourself with this, check out this link. Remember, that drinking with colleagues should not focus on guzzling and getting drunk. Social drinking (walking around, sipping off the same drink and talking with others in the meantime) is preferred.

How is St. Patrick’s Day celebrated in the community?
While St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are more prominent in cities where large Irish populations live, like Boston or New York City, there are also festivals in other areas like Memphis or New Orleans. In these cities, parades are common. Some restaurants serve foods and drinks with green food coloring. 

Is St. Patrick’s Day the same in Ireland? 
I doubt it. I have never been to Ireland to know the difference, but, this video by the US Embassy in Dublin shows us how Americans have Americanified the holiday. And, of course, part of any good Americanification strategy is introducing gimmicks and commercialization.

Small talk and questions you can ask about St. Patrick’s Day at work: 

Dogs dress up for St. Patrick's Day
Everyone dresses up in green!
  • Do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? 
  • How do you celebrate it? 
  • Are there St. Patrick’s Day parades nearby? I’d like to see one? 
  • Should we wear green to work on March 17? 
  • Wanna go for happy hour on St. Patrick’s Day? 
  • What are Irish pubs in the area? What can I eat or drink there? (Some Irish Pubs are like restaurants and not bars.) 
  • What are some common Irish foods I can try? 

Do I have to go out and drink with my American colleagues? 
It’s your choice. If you do, my personal recommendation is to limit drinking to “social drinking.” Social drinking does not lead to getting drunk. The purpose of social drinking is not to get drunk, but to have a drink, sip it, socialize and drink some more. Though Americans do drink, and some may get drunk around their colleagues, it typically doesn’t give a good impression to do this. It may be easy to get carried away due to the festive attitude of your colleagues and even the general public, as in some cities, they relax the open container law allowing people to walk on the streets in certain areas with open alcoholic beverages (it seems for a simple search on Google that as of 2018, many states/cities that previously allowed open container for special events have stopped it due to unsavory behavior). If you don’t drink- if you are a teetotaler, feel free to order ice tea or lemonade. Most bars do have a alcoholic drink. If you do want to drink, do it socially and always make sure to have a designated driver or someone who can drive for you who has not been drinking. Drinking and driving laws are very strict and if you get caught drinking and driving, the consequences can be dire. Maybe if you are a teetotaler, you can make yourself a designated driver to avoid drinking alcohol. 

Where I grew up Irish and British style pubs were not bars. Though there was a bar inside the establishment, many were considered fancier versions of restaurants with a bar. Families used to go to some of the establishments as well. Ask your colleagues in advance of visiting an Irish pub what to expect. 

Feel free to share your experiences as a foreigner in the US celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in the US in the comments below. 

Jennifer Kumar is the Managing Director of Authentic Journeys. She provides coaching to help international business professionals communicate with success with US Americans.

Related Posts: 
Are Americans Superstitious? 
Next Holiday – Memorial Day 

Photo credits for parade dancers and dressed up dog: Krishna Kumar
Updated March 2018, April 2020


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