Exactly 23 of the 46 U.S. presidents can trace lineage back to Ireland, so is St. Patrick’s Day a federal holiday?
Beginning with the seventh president and including Joe Biden, the 46th, nearly two dozen former heads of state have Irish heritage, according to the Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin.
“I’m the proud son of Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden,” the current president said last year on St. Patrick’s Day. “And like so many Americans of Irish heritage, I love Ireland.”
The 15th president, James Buchanan is one of three former presidents who had at least one parent born in Ireland – along with former presidents Andrew Jackson and Chester A. Arthur, according to the Irish Emigration Museum. Of course, the well-known Irish-American President John F. Kennedy was also the first to visit Ireland while in Office and the first Roman Catholic to be elected to the Oval Office.
Historically, presidents would welcome Irish leaders to the White House on St. Patrick’s Day, whether or not they were Irish themselves. Tradition has been for the president to receive a bowl of shamrocks from the prime minister of Ireland.
Though things get green inside the White House for St. Patrick’s Day, it’s not a federal holiday. That means federal employees will not have the day off on March 17, 2023, and will not be eligible for holiday premium pay.
In fact, St. Patrick’s Day is not recognized as an official holiday in the United States, but it is still widely and vigorously celebrated every year.
St. Patrick is credited with spreading Christianity throughout Ireland, according to “The Old Farmer’s Almanac,” and is said to have died on March 17 in the late 5th Century. He is recognized as the patron saint of Ireland. According to legend, he drove all the snakes away from Ireland and used a 3-leaf shamrock to teach the Holy Trinity.
Despite St. Patrick’s Day’s religious roots, it is more of a cultural celebration today. Immigrants brought the holiday to the U.S. and Boston claims it hosted the first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the 13 colonies in 1737. St. Patrick’s Day became symbolic for Irish Americans as a way to respect their old country from their new one, transforming it from a religious feast day to a celebration of their heritage and homeland, rich with food, flowing beer and parades.
It has survived and spread over the centuries. Celebrations today are widespread across America, with parades in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and many other places in between.
The saying goes, “everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” and the sea of emerald green across America shows it. Green is a nod to the Irish flag, on which the color represents nationalism. Shamrocks, likewise, were a symbol of Ireland, a sacred plant that symbolized the rebirth of spring.
Leprechauns are legendary creatures with Irish roots, so they are also tied to the holiday. The pint-sized tricksters are said to hide a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Catching one is said to be lucky, as the leprechaun will grant you three wishes.
The Smithsonian Magazine traced the roots of corned beef and cabbage, known today as a feast for St. Paddy’s Day. While Ireland was once a major exporter for corned beef, those who lived there could not afford to eat it. In America, the Irish finally had money to purchase meat – and they bought what they could afford: corned beef. Cabbage became a substitute for the potatoes of Ireland, wrapping up the dish.
St. Patrick’s Day falls between Ash Wednesday and Easter, in the middle of Lent, which is viewed as a religious time of fasting. According to Time Magazine, having a religious feast day in the middle of the fast was considered a welcome break to enjoy meat, alcohol or other indulgences.
The traditions tied to St. Patrick’s Day are largely American: It wasn’t until televisions gave the Irish a peek into celebrations in the U.S. in the 20th century that pubs opened for the day.
The next federal holiday for federal workers is Memorial Day on Monday, May 29.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.