By Amira Amira Al Mutairi and Jennifer Avery
As you walk down the street this Friday (3/7) through a crowd of partying college students, it may be hard to believe that the roots of their celebration can be found in a Christian holiday to commemorate the life of the best known patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick, as well as the arrival of Christianity to Ireland.
The celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in the United States dates back to the 18th century. Though the holiday’s origins were religious, celebrations in the USA have, since their inception, been focused primarily on the cultural aspect of the holiday. Many people show their holiday spirit by dressing in green, drinking green beverages, eating green food and watching parades that highlight Irish heritage and culture. In cities where there is a large Irish/Irish-American population, the celebrations are even more elaborate. Chicago, for example, is home to a large Irish population, and the city is famously known for dyeing its river a festive kelly green using forty pounds of powdered vegetable dye for St. Patrick’s Day, every March 17th.
Today, one popular way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the States involves drinking alcoholic beverages, a favorite being green beer. This tradition has endured over the years thanks to the lifting of Lenten restrictions on alcohol consumption for the day, much to the delight of bar owners around the country. And that brings us to the celebration of “Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day.”
The Official History of “Unofficial”
St.Patrick’s Day is a widely celebrated holiday among those with and without Irish heritage. Because of the holiday’s popularity and the proximity of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to Chicago and its large Irish population, there was a sense of disappointment when the holiday began to fall during Spring Break around 1995. In a move to solve the problem of lost revenue which was previously generated by St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, a group of local business owners came together to discuss the creation of a new and exciting way to drum up business. Their solution was to create “Unofficial St. Patrick’s’ Day,” also known as “Unofficial”, to be held before Spring Break. Some people deemed this solution a short-lived gimmick, but the popularity of Unofficial has grown steadily over the past two decades. In the early years, Unofficial was marked by bars opening at 7 am and was solely celebrated by UIUC students. Over the years, the event has seen an increasing number of students visiting from other universities. As a result, stricter regulations were created and are being enforced to help promote safety and responsibility. Unofficial has changed over the years, but one thing that remains the same is the sea of green t-shirts worn by students!
Things to keep in mind during Unofficial:
- Watch out for the other guy – other people around you may not be drinking safely which increases your chance of becoming someone’s victim.
- Use the buddy system – always have a friend with you so that you are never isolated in a bad situation.
- Get to know the rules and regulations for Unofficial – there are a number of regulations that have been put in place specifically for Unofficial (including the raising of the bar entry age to 21). Familiarize yourself with these ahead of time so you don’t have any unpleasant surprises while you’re celebrating.
If you choose to drink alcohol:
- The drinking age is 21
- Remember to eat! – having food in your stomach will help the alcohol absorb more slowly into your system. Carbs such as bread, pasta, pizza and even a little bit of ice cream are a great help!
- Always monitor your drink - don’t ever leave it unattended, and don’t let other people mix drinks for you
- Calling 911 for someone who is ill from the effects of alcohol is a caring act, not a betrayal, and neither you nor your sick friend can get in trouble for making the call or going to the hospital.
Please see the following video for more information about rules, regulations, and safety tips for University of Illinois Students.