8 Kid-Friendly Ways to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day for Free (or Almost Free)

While most people don’t think of St. Patrick’s Day as a particularly expensive holiday, things can sure add up quickly if you want to celebrate in style with your family.

The most festive place to celebrate would likely be Dublin, Ireland, where the four-day, mid-March St. Patrick’s Day festival brings visitors from all around the world.

Plane tickets from New York City to Dublin start at $700. A hotel room would cost at least $70 per night for five nights, then there are the costs of dining and sightseeing.

And, if you want to get a good view of the parade (which, of course you do, since you flew all the way to Ireland!), grandstand tickets are 60 Euros each (nearly $70). It would be easy to spend well over $4,000 to bring a family of four to Ireland for the festivities.

8 Inexpensive St. Patrick’s Day Activities for Kids

But it’s not necessary to spend a fortune or travel across an ocean to have a festive St. Patrick’s Day with your family. Instead, enjoy these fun and almost-free activities with your wee ones, from joining local celebrations, to learning about Irish history, to making these crafts and recipes at home.

1. Head to a Parade

For over 250 years, Americans have held parades to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in 1762 in New York City, as the city’s Irish population grew rapidly with more and more immigrants settling in the U.S.

Continue that tradition this year by bringing your family to a St. Patrick’s Day parade near you. The two biggest parades are in New York City and Chicago. Chicago even dyes the river green for the holiday!

This year, Chicago’s celebration will be held on Saturday, March 11, while New York is sticking to the traditional March 17 date.

You’ll find many other parades throughout the nation, so check your local newspaper for more information. Parades are generally free to watch, though you might want to spring for some green beverages and snacks afterward.

2. Learn a Little Irish History

Do you know about the 1177 Norman Invasion of Munster? Might as well brush up on your Irish history with free Irish history podcasts.

These podcasts (available on iTunes and online) feature stories about everything from Norman invasions to daily life in the medieval frontier, with categories including “The Story of Ireland” (featuring history from 800 AD to the 12th century), “The Norman Invasion of Ireland,” as well as “Modern History.”

Kids might also enjoy National Geographic’s website with fun facts about Ireland. Once you’ve all absorbed this trivia, you’ll be ready for any leprechaun-themed questions on your favorite game show!

3. Have a Pot ‘o’ Gold Treasure Hunt

Send your wee ones on the hunt for their own pot ‘o’ gold with this memorable activity that is sure to become an annual tradition in your house.

You’ll need:

  • A wooden or cardboard “treasure chest” (a cardboard box will work just fine)
  • Green craft paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Things to decorate the “treasure chest” (glitter, acrylic gemstones, markers, stickers)
  • Treats for “treasure” (gold coin candies, etc.)
  • Paper and markers (to create clues)

Here’s how to put it together:

1. With your kids, paint the “treasure chest” with green craft paint and allow it to dry. You can add glitter and stickers, or glue acrylic gemstones to the chest to make it more festive.

2. When your kids aren’t looking, stuff the chest with treasures, including gold coin candies. Find a good hiding spot, and leave clues throughout the house, with each clue leading to the next clue. For example, leave a note about “The next clue is near Fluffy’s favorite place” and leave the next clue on the windowsill where your cat loves to soak up the sun. Leave several clues that progressively lead to the treasure’s hiding spot.

3. Once everything is set, enjoy the hunt!

4. Make Shamrock Necklaces

Don’t get pinched for not wearing any green! Here’s a fun option: handmade shamrock necklaces.

You’ll need:

  • Green and white construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Hole punch
  • Yarn
  • Glitter, markers and stickers for decoration

Creating this necklace is simple:

1. First, grab some green and white construction paper and use scissors to cut out several sizes of shamrocks.

2. Use a hole punch to create a hole in each paper shamrock, then use yarn to string them together and make your very own St. Patrick’s Day necklace.

3. Use glitter, markers or stickers to decorate the shamrocks, and enjoy wearing your necklace.

5. Create St. Patrick’s Day Carnations

This fun craft is also a science experiment — so it’s entertaining and educational.

You’ll need:

  • White carnations
  • Green food coloring
  • Water
  • Vase (or jar)

Here’s what to do:

1. First, mix water with a few drops of green food coloring in a vase or jar.

2. Place each carnation’s stem in the water, and predict what will happen.

3. Watch over the next few hours as the green coloring spreads through the stem, and into the petals of the flower.

4. Once the flowers are green, you can display these festive carnations, wear them in your hair or decorate with them.

6. Bake Irish Soda Bread

This traditional bread was baked in different shapes in different parts of Ireland, with northern regions favoring a flattened, rounded disc with four triangles, and southern regions embracing a round loaf with a cross atop it.

Enjoy your own crusty, golden loaf of Irish soda bread with this tasty recipe.

You’ll need:

  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup margarine, softened
  • 1 ¼ cups buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a baking sheet.

2. Using a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and margarine.

3. Add 1 cup of buttermilk and egg, turning out dough on floured surface and lightly kneading.

4. Make dough into a round and place on baking sheet.

5. In a separate bowl, mix butter with ¼ cup buttermilk, and brush the mixture on top of the loaf. Use a knife to cut an “X” on top.

6. Bake 45-50 minutes, testing for doneness after 30 minutes (then regularly afterward) with a toothpick (by inserting the toothpick in the middle — when it comes out clean, it’s done). Feel free to brush more of the egg and buttermilk mixture on the loaf as it bakes.

7. Make Corned Beef and Cabbage

This classic Irish-American dish was first created when Irish immigrants sought to find a lower-cost alternative to a traditional Irish stew that featured Irish bacon (similar to Canadian bacon) and potatoes.

Pork was very expensive in the U.S., so creative cooks substituted beef in the recipe instead. Cabbage was added as a less expensive potato substitute that absorbed the rich flavor of the beef. People fell in the love with the dish, and it became so popular that it was a featured menu item at President Lincoln’s 1862 inaugural dinner.

For this modern recipe, you will need:

  • 3 lbs corned beef brisket with spice packet
  • 10 red potatoes
  • 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 3” chunks
  • 1 large head cabbage, cut into small wedges

Here’s what to do:

1. Get a large pot or dutch oven and put the corned beef inside, covering with water.

2. Add the spice packet and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 50 minutes per pound or until tender.

3. Add whole potatoes and carrots, cooking until almost tender.

4. Add cabbage and cook for 15 more minutes.

5. Remove meat, let rest for 15 minutes.

6. Place vegetables in a bowl, then cover. Add broth and slice meat across the grain before serving.

8. Prepare Irish Potato Candy

Despite not containing potatoes or being from Ireland, this simple, no-bake confectionery treat was developed in Philadelphia by Irish immigrants, and it remains a St. Patrick’s Day tradition in the City of Brotherly Love.

These delicious cinnamon-coated sweets resembles miniature potatoes and are often rolled into potato shapes and served in a “potato sack” (a brown paper bag).

You’ll need

  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 ½ cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

Here’s what to do:

1. Beat butter, cream cheese and vanilla together.

2. Slowly add the powdered sugar.

3. Then, mix in coconut and stir until well-blended.

4. Form tablespoon-sized balls, roll in cinnamon and roll each one into a potato shape.

5. Place the pieces onto a foil-lined cookie sheet and chill until set. Keep them in the refrigerator until serving time.

Your Turn: How are you planning to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Do you have any other kid-friendly activities to share?

Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.