Many people are familiar with the traditions that go hand-in-hand with St. Patrick’s Day – green everything (milkshakes, beer, clothes, rivers); parades; shamrocks; corned beef; and, perhaps most notably, drinking.
There are a few non-historical reasons why people drink on St. Patrick’s Day in modern times. One is that crowds of people all celebrating the same thing tends to result in some alcohol consumption. In addition, mid-March is the time when hints of spring appear in many parts of the United States, which puts people in a jovial mood. And, most simply, some people drink because everyone else is doing it.
However, there is a historical explanation that may shed some light on the roots of the tradition.
According to legend, St. Patrick was staying at an inn where he was given a cup of whiskey that wasn’t full. He used this as a chance to teach a lesson on generosity. He told the innkeeper that there was a devil living with the whiskey in the inn’s cellar. St. Patrick said that this devil was the reason the innkeeper was greedy and cheated people out of their drink.
He explained that the only way the innkeeper could redeem himself and banish the devil was to fill everyone’s cup until it was overflowing. When St. Patrick returned, he discovered that the innkeeper now had a generous spirit and each cup was full. It then became custom to drink a “full measure” to celebrate the occasion.
In addition, because St. Patrick’s Day is a feast day, Christians are allowed to set aside their Lenten restrictions on food and alcohol consumption. This has further cemented the link between St. Patrick’s Day and drinking.