Irish Celebrations in the US
37 million people in the United States have Irish ancestors, so it makes sense that Irish celebrations in the United States are some of the most widespread, inclusive, and engaging holidays in the country.
Also known as St. Stephen’s Day, Wren Day takes place on December 26, the day after Christmas. While in other countries this is known as Boxing Day, in Ireland it is a celebration of St. Stephen. A mock hunt takes place, where straw-covered wrenboys pursue a fake wren on top of a pole.
The wren is a symbol of the year gone past, and may have Celtic roots. Usually, money is collected from willing people in the crowd and donated to a local charity. Many songs are sung and it is a particularly merry holiday. Although not as prevalent in the United States as some other Irish holidays, traditional Irish neighborhoods in Boston and Philadelphia do partake in traditional Wren Day entertainment.
Even though Halloween doesn’t seem very Irish at all, the Celts celebrated All Hallow’s Eve in Ireland many hundreds of years ago. Many of the finer details and historical origins are pagan, drawing from the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain. Samhain, which dates to the 10th century, is as old an Irish festival as any, and derives its name from the old Irish for “Summer’s end”, hence being celebrated in the closing days of October. Like Halloween, Samhain also marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter.
While many are unaware of it, nearly every citizen of the United States has partaken in a deeply Irish Halloween tradition- carving pumpkins! The jack-o’-lantern indeed originated with the Irish holiday of Samhain and in fact, they originally carved turnips! Its purpose was not just to imitate dead spirits, but to serve as protection against them. The next time you carve a pumpkin, remember that you are participating in one of the oldest Irish celebrations.
St. Patrick’s Day & Irish Heritage Month
Without a doubt, St. Patrick’s Day is the most celebrated of all Irish holidays in the United States. Every year on March 17th, Irish and non-Irish alike don green outfits, pin on shamrocks, and eat traditional Irish fare. Typically, a good amount of beer drinking takes place as well! In the past couple decades especially, St. Patrick’s Day has become a US celebration for all ages to enjoy.
Thousands of parades with Irish food and dancers emerge across the country. Ireland-themes parties are thrown for the entire week, and bars and clubs have special Irish drink specials and costume contests. In honor of this holiday and Irish culture in America, March has been officially deemed Irish-American Heritage Month, with festivities happening all month long in nearly every major city across the country.
Irish Music Festivals and Fairs
With one in ten Americans able to directly trace Irish roots, hundreds of cities country-wide have annual Irish music festivals and fairs. Coast to coast, there are over one hundred yearly Irish festivals. One of the most famous is the Dublin, Ohio Irish Festival held in August. One of the largest, it brings over one hundred thousand visitors to the massive event, and includes Irish cultural, musical and sporting events.
The Los Angeles County Irish Fair and Music Festival is one of the largest Irish music festivals in the country, celebrating anything from traditional Irish music to Celtic rock. But the biggest Irish music festival in the US is held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, coincidentally being one of the major US microbrew capitals. A good recipe for an Irish festival!
Even if your city is not mentioned above, do not fret, for hundreds of cities across the nation post their Irish festival dates online. A quick search should turn up some results near you, where ever you are, from a Celtic festival in Hawaii to an Irish Music Festival in Anchorage.
Irish celebrations are embedded in American culture, and are celebrated by those of Irish heritage and those with no Irish blood at all. We have much to thank the Irish for, including many of the nation’s favorite celebrations.
Enda Glacken is a native of Ireland and writes enthusiastically on all things relating to Ireland and jewelry. He is the founder at www.thecelticjeweller.com, a modern online Celtic & Irish jewelry site. You can find his thoughts and musings on his blog at