History behind St. Patrick’s Day

Sylvia Dixon, Entertainment Editor

To many, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day simply means wearing green or going out to an Irish Pub for the night. But the thousand-year-old holiday has a much more rich cultural history than that.

The holiday has been around for over 1,000 years and is celebrated annually on March 17. St. Patrick’s Day originated in Ireland as a religious holiday, honoring St. Patrick on the day of his death. St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland who was credited for bringing Christianity to the country. Though he is the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick was not in fact from Ireland—he was born in Great Britain but was captured by Irish raiders and transported to Ireland at 16 years old. He lived as a slave in Ireland for six years and after growing discontented in his life of servitude, he escaped his master and fled back to England. During his enslavement, he turned to Christianity as a source of faith and love amidst a grim life. Upon returning to England, St. Patrick dreamt of the Irish calling to him for help. He eventually responded to this call, returning to Ireland, this time as a missionary rather than a slave.

The Irish began observing the holiday in the 10th century but the first official feast day was not until 1631. Irish families would start the day by attending church and then would celebrate with a feast in the afternoon, usually consisting of bacon and cabbage, a traditional Irish meal. St. Patrick’s Day takes place during Lent, the Christian season of prayer. During Lent, Christians are supposed to abstain from eating meat, however, during St. Patrick’s Day the restrictions on meat were lifted.

As many Irish people immigrated to the U.S. during the 19th century, the holiday became popularized here as well. In fact, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in St. Augustine, Fl in 1601. Parades have become a popular way to celebrate the holiday. The New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade is the world’s oldest civilian parade. Major parades also take place in cities such as Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.

The holiday is also celebrated in Japan, Singapore and Russia. Japan hosts fifteen parades, as well as the “I Love Ireland” festival, which is a blend of Japanese and Irish cultures, with people dressed in shamrock-printed kimonos and dining on leprechaun hair food sticks. Singapore is well known for its three-day St. Patrick’s Day Street Festival.

Over time, new St. Patrick’s Day traditions have developed. Currently, it is a tradition to wear green on St. Patrick’s day, and those who do not follow this tradition risk getting pinched. The color green has been associated with Ireland for a long time, but this has not always been the case. The country’s flag was blue when Henry VII declared himself king of Ireland in 1541. Green became aligned with Ireland during the Great Irish Rebellion when the color was included on the flag.

St. Patrick’s Day is also celebrated through eating traditional Irish food such as Irish soda, bread, cottage pie, corned beef and cabbage. Many celebrate the holiday by drinking, as alcohol also has a prominent role in Irish culture. The most popular Irish drink is Guinness beer.

Additionally, the shamrock has unofficially become the symbol of the holiday. One well-known legend about the plant is that St. Patrick used the three leaves of the clover as an educational tool to explain the “Holy Trinity,” which signifies the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. The plant has become symbolic of Ireland and its culture and there is a long-standing tradition of people wearing the plant on their hats on the holiday.

This St. Patrick’s Day, think about celebrating by not just wearing green, but by appreciating the different aspects that contribute to the richness of Irish culture.