This St. Patrick’s Day will you wear green, catch leprechauns, search for a pot of gold or chug green beer? You might be surprised to learn some of our St. Patty’s Day traditions have little to do with the holiday celebrated on March 17 by people all over the world.
St. Patrick’s Day, also known as the Feast of St. Patrick, is actually a religious celebration in honor of the foremost patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick was thought to be born in Roman Britain in the fifth century. It is believed at the age of 16 he was kidnapped by pirates and sold as a slave in Ireland. At 22, he broke free from his captors and returned to England to study theology and become a priest. He later returned to Ireland as a missionary and is credited with bringing Christianity to the country.
It is widely believed that St. Patrick used shamrocks as a tool to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans, with the three clovers representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Today in Ireland, many practicing Catholics attend church on St. Patrick’s Day wearing bunches of shamrocks pinned to their holiday finery and then head home for a family meal. Meanwhile, some folks celebrate the occasion a wee bit differently.
Let’s start with that traditional green St. Patty’s Day beer. Research shows it was all-American idea created by a New York City doctor for a party in 1914. He’s said to have used blue laundry power to dye the beer green. Today, there is always a demand for blue food coloring around St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, until the 1960s, the sales of alcohol was prohibited in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day in honor of the holy day. Some pubs in Dublin and other larger cities now serve green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, but mostly to please tourists who are visiting Ireland.
St. Patrick’s Day parades and festivals, didn’t originate in Ireland either. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was actually held in New York City in 1766. It wasn’t until 1995 that Ireland held its own St. Patrick’s Day parade to boost tourism. The five-day festival is now held in Dublin. Chicago is the host of the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade where the Chicago River is dyed green for the annual event.
Historically, green has been associated with Irish nationalism, and it remains one of three colors of its flag. Ireland is also known for its lush, green scenery and is nicknamed the Emerald Isle. Wearing green is a way to celebrate one’s Irish heritage or at least avoid getting pinched.
As Irish folklore goes, the color green makes us invisible to leprechauns. Without protection of the color green, the mischevious little creatures will jump out and pinch us! Leprechaun lore has its roots in the Celtic tradition. These lucky leprechauns are said to hide pots of gold at the end of the rainbow where it is impossible for mere mortals to reach.
The Irish and pots of gold may have at least some factual significance. According to the author of 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History, the phrase “luck of the Irish” may refer to the gold and silver rush in the United States during the late 1800s when many successful miners were Irish. Over time, the association of the Irish and mining fortunes might have led to the expression.
On St. Patrick’s Day, at a bar or parade somewhere, someone will be wearing a T-shirt that reads, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish!” The phrase originates from the legend of the Blarney Stone, an iconic stone set in a wall of Blarney Castle constructed in Ireland in 1446. There are many legends about the stone, but kissing it is said to give a person the gift of eloquence and good luck. Maybe it’s just a bunch of blarney, but about 400,000 people reportedly turn upside down to kiss the stone every year.
It’s said everyone is a little bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Although I am not of Irish descent, some of my favorite people are. Many years ago one of them taught me to sing this beautiful Irish blessing, “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.” §
“As you slide down the bannister of life may the splinters never point the wrong direction.”
~ Irish Blessing
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