How to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on a College Budget

Redheaded girl celebrating St. Patrick's Day in college

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St. Patrick's Day, for many Irish-Americans, is about celebrating the infectiously joyful and welcoming nature of their heritage. We remember family parties filled with music, the occasional brawl between cousins, and grandparents toasting to the health of everyone in the neighborhood. For college students who spend so much time away from their families, connecting with the cheer and tradition of the holiday is a surefire way to cope with homesickness. Of course, with a communal kitchen, small budget, and homework, you’ll be celebrating differently this year.


Trad seisiuns (sessions) are common, informal Irish musical gatherings. These lively get-togethers, often held at Irish pubs, attract individual musicians who have no planned sets. One musician begins playing a tune, and others join in if they recognize it. The relaxed atmosphere encourages the entire community to get involved.

You can imitate this tradition by making an Irish playlist. Start your sing-along off with U2’s “Beautiful Day.” Next, turn on “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” a song by Dropkick Murphys that played in the Academy Award-winning movie The Departed. If you’re really looking to up your St. Patrick's Day game, consider hearing the song live; Dropkick Murphys tours the United States around this time every year.

Another vital piece of music is “Zombie” by the Cranberries. This five-minute song may have changed the course of history for Ireland. As a plea for peace between England and Ireland, it protested the Irish Republican Army’s bombings in Northern Ireland. Weeks after the song’s release, the IRA declared a ceasefire that ended 25 years of violence. It’s rumored that “Zombie” saved Ireland because the IRA was afraid of having another song written about it by the popular band.

Round out your playlist with songs by the Dubliners, the Chieftains, the High Kings, and Solas.


It doesn’t matter if you’re practicing leaps with your arms firm at your sides or if you’re sliding across the dance floor on your head in an epic dance battle; this holiday begs for dancing!

True Irish dance starts with two basics: the jig and the reel. Neither one is likely to win you brownie points at a college party. Luckily, the holiday is more about celebrating friends and family than looking cool. No matter how embarrassing your skills may be, get ready to bust a move. Dancing is proven to lower stress levels, ease depression, and increase self-confidence. It’s a pot of gold for mental health, so get your friends together and have a dance party!


Looking to put together an Irish meal for your friends and roommates? In the dorms, it’s not always easy to cook, but if you have a George Foreman grill, crockpot, or microwave, you can get creative. If not the most gourmet holiday recipes, the following meals are probably tastier and more festive than most dining hall food.

  • Microwave:
    • Bangers and mash, also known more simply as sausage and mashed potatoes, are perfect for the tight budget.
      • Buy precooked sausage links and microwaveable mashed potatoes.
      • Heat.
      • Voila! There’s nothing easier.
  • George Foreman grill:
    • Irish eggs with potatoes, green peppers, and red onions.
      • First, whisk the eggs (two per person) in a bowl.
      • Dice the green bell peppers and onions.
      • Peel the potatoes and slice into cubes.
      • Mix all of the ingredients together and pour them onto the grill.
      • Cook until the eggs are done.
      • Top it off with your favorite cheese.
  • Crockpot:
    • Irish stew had humble beginnings. It featured mutton, onions, and potatoes. Today, it’s often dressed up with beef chuck, carrots, celery, potatoes, vegetable roots, and a hint of Guinness Stout. This is a simple recipe that will cost less than $20 and feed at least five hungry college students.
      • Put two pounds of cubed beef chuck in a crockpot.
      • Add three cans of golden mushroom soup. Fill one of the cans with water and add to the crockpot.
      • Mix in one pack of onion soup mix, four potatoes (cut into cubes), two cups of baby carrots, and a small onion (diced).
      • Cook on low for about nine hours before serving.
  • Deli sandwich:
    • Corned beef sandwiches are arguably an Irish tradition. Some say they were derived in New York by immigrants who had fled the Great Famine. Others say the recipe was brought straight from the Emerald Isle. Regardless, corned beef has been associated with the Irish for many years. The best part? The sandwiches are delicious and easy to make!
      • Pile your corned beef between two slices of rye toast.
      • Melt Swiss cheese onto the meat.
      • Add your choice of mayonnaise, mustard, or Worcestershire sauce.

If you plan to go out on St. Paddy’s Day, you’ll have better—but more expensive—options. Order a corned beef and cabbage dish, and swing by a bakery for a thick slice of Irish soda bread!


If you’re looking for traditional beverages other than green beer and Jameson whiskey, there are options. Truly. The Irish culture also favors beverages that are nonalcoholic. If you aren’t one to sip on a pint, mix up some great mocktails and traditional Irish cordials.

  • Nonalcoholic beverages:
    • Black tea (Irish breakfast tea) is commonly served with sugar, milk, or lemon. The Irish love their teas as much, if not more, than their alcohol.
    • MiWadi, a diluted fruit drink, was first served in Dublin in 1927. International grocery stores near you might carry it.
    • Lemon Mint Infusion is a combination of hot water, club soda, mint leaves, and slices of lemon that is sure to warm you up if you’re experiencing the tail end of winter weather.
  • Mocktails:
    • Create an Irish coffee by mixing strong coffee with Bailey’s nonalcoholic coffee creamer. Top it off with whipped cream. Treat yourself to some green sprinkles while you’re at it!
    • The Shillelagh, courtesy of Love to Know, is a tasty substitute for fruity cocktails. Named after an Irish walking stick, the Shillelagh’s simple ingredients include lemon juice, peach juice, powdered sugar, and raspberries.
    • The Honeydew Basil No-jito is a twist on the classic mojito, but it still offers up the bitter kick of a cocktail. Better Homes and Gardens suggests substituting honeydew melon and extra lime juice for gin. It isn’t exactly Irish, but it is green!

When spreading the Irish cheer this year, remember to stay safe. If you do go out drinking, do not leave your drink unattended or accept a cup from anyone, even a leprechaun (especially this one). And please don’t forget to read our section on drinking safely. 

Be merry!

The green holiday is celebrated near and far to spread the joy of the Gaelic community. Whether you are Irish or otherwise, enjoy your day! Sláinte!

About Katelyn Brush

Katelyn likes learning, good health, traveling, and pizza on Fridays. Her mixed education, composed of SUNY the College at Brockport, a semester at a community college, and one abroad at the University of Oxford, helped her earn a bachelor’s degree in English. College also gave her a few lessons in Taekwondo and sleeping in a hostel dorm with total strangers. She’s a yoga teacher, author and illustrator of the children’s book, “Signing Together: A Guide to American Sign Language for Everyone.” As a Student Caffé writer, she hopes to help you through the highs and lows of college with a laugh ... or 20.

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