Each year on March 17th, celebrations occur around the world to honor Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. The current celebrations seem to be more removed from the actual saint but the Irish ties remain strong. There are parades, drinking of Irish beer and whiskey, wearing green and so much more.
Saint Patrick wasn’t actually born Irish – he was believed to be born in Britain sometime around the fourth century. He had been captured by Irish pirates when he was 16 years old and was taken to Ireland to work as a slave and herdsman for six years. One legend has it that Patrick received a message from an angel to escape and go home to become a missionary. He did just that – escaping and walking 200 miles to the coast, where he boarded a ship home.
While home and over several years, Patrick was ordained a priest and eventually went back to Ireland to convert the Irish people to Christianity. He spent forty years traveling the county converting people and ultimately died on March 17th around the year 461 and was buried in Northern Ireland. There’s another legend that during his time in Ireland, Patrick drove the snakes out of the country and into the sea but in reality, many scientists believe that snakes couldn’t reach the island or survive on it because of the Ice Age and climate.
Food and Celebration
Today is regularly celebrated with pints of Guinness and the classic Irish dish of corned beef and cabbage. And while there are celebrations all around the world, today is a public holiday for the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Caribbean island of Montserrat. The day has even been celebrated up in the International Space Station over the past few years.
Within the United States, today isn’t a legal holiday but there are still many celebrations all around the country. In Chicago, 45 pounds of dye are used to turn the Chicago River green for a few hours. Dye is also added to the White River in Indianapolis, to downtown fountains in Savannah Georgia, and many other places.
What we now know as Saint Patrick’s Day was actually a largely American thing at first – the Irish community in Boston was the first to celebrate the day in the thirteen colonies in 1737. Over time, the tradition eventually spread throughout the Irish communities in the United States.
Wearing green is another tradition celebrated today but it wasn’t the first color to be associated with the saint and country. Blue had long been the color of Ireland and Saint Patrick for a few different reasons but sometime in the 1700s, the color changed to green.
The tradition of wearing green and getting pinched if you’re not is also a mostly American one. Legend has it that wearing green made you invisible to leprechauns, who would in turn pinch anyone not wearing green. In Ireland, people don’t wear massive amounts of green clothing like here in the US but tend to wear a small bunch of shamrocks. There are even church ceremonies by local priests and bishops that bless shamrocks.
There are a few criticisms around today’s celebrations, including the fact that many LGBT groups were banned from marching in many St. Patrick’s Day parades in major cities. Similarly, the celebrations have been regularly criticized for cultivating and fostering negative stereotypes of Ireland and Irish people. There’s even the term ‘plastic paddy’, an often derogatory term used for those of the Irish diaspora who misappropriate stereotypes of Irish people and culture. The term is also used for those who aren’t Irish in anyway but use today to falsely claim Irish identity.
There is so much more about the patron saint of Ireland and the celebrations that honor him but for now, that is the history of Saint Patrick’s Day and its traditions.
Sources and to learn more
- Saint Patrick’s Day – Wikipedia
- The World Will Drink 13 Million pints of Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day – Sean Rossman, USA Today
- Saint Patrick’s Day: The History, Myths, and Traditions Explained – Joey Gill, WRDW
- How Green Became Associated With St. Patrick’s Day and All Things Irish – Olivia B. Waxman, Time
- Plastic Paddy – Wikipedia
- How St. Patrick’s Day Works – Melissa Russell-Ausley, HowStuffWorks
- Saint Patrick’s Day – Popstuff podcast, HowStuffWorks
- Everything You Know About St. Patrick’s Day Is Wrong – Christine Dalton, The Huffington Post