Many people may associate this day as an excuse to drink and have a night out. However, there is a fascinating history to this day, as well as intriguing traditions. On the 17th March, there is a celebration of the culture in Ireland and for Irish people across the globe.
The legend of Saint Patrick
Saint Patrick was born into a wealthy family in Roman Britain during the 4th century. At the age of 16, Patrick was captured and taken to Ireland where he was enslaved and held captive for six years. During this time, he spiritually grew closer to God through prayer. His jobs whilst enslaved mostly consisted of being a shepherd. He eventually converted to Christianity.
Well according to the legend, a voice came to Patrick in his dreams and told him to escape resulting in him returning back to England.
It was the same voice that came to him years later and told him to go back to Ireland to teach and later convert the Irish population to Christianity. During his time as a missionary, he taught people about the Holy Trinity which is God (the Father), Jesus (the Son) and the Holy Spirit. He used a shamrock to explain each part of the Holy Trinity. The shamrock was something that people were already familiar with, in Ireland. It is also important to remember that the only books around during that time period were those written by holy monks and they were written in Latin or Greek. So using the shamrock was an essential part of his success.
However, Patrick’s legend and myth did not begin until years after his death, during the 5th century. There is a well-known myth that stated Saint Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. Although, it has since been geographically proven that there were never been snakes in Ireland, to begin with. Many believe that the snakes in the myth were actually a metaphor for the Saint’s mission of converting people to Christianity.
There are many ways to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, one example would be attending a parade. These parades include a lot of green outfits with shamrocks on them, dancing, drinking and music. However, it was Irish-Americans in the US that first started the parades. Mass groups of Irish immigrants would host parades, with the first being in Florida at the beginning of the 17th Century. One of the biggest parades in the US is the New York parade, where 150,000 people participate over a five hour period.
Their celebration gained them a lot of political power in the US. The 1948 US President, Harry S. Truman, celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day at the parade that year. This was a huge moment for the Irish community in the US as their early celebrations faced backlash from other American citizens and newspapers branded them negatively. Another way that the US celebrates is by dyeing the Chicago River green. The idea came from a company that used green dye to see if there was sewage in the river. During that moment in 1962, they used 100 lbs of vegetable dye so the river would stay green for a whole week. However, now they only use 40 pounds to decrease the amount of environmental damage the dye does to the water.
In Ireland, until the 1970s, Irish families would celebrate by having a feast altogether. Now, it is a national holiday and they also conduct parades where they drink like their ancestors used to. Fun fact, sometimes they even dye the alcohol green just like the Chicago River! During the 90s, the Irish government realised that they could use Saint Patrick’s Day as a good way to increase tourism so they created “a multi-day Saint Patrick’s Day Festival”. This year, the festival will be online due to the global pandemic. The celebration will stretch across multiple days with over 100 performances. Usually, the parades attract half a million celebrators.
Another way some celebrate is climbing Croagh Patrick, which is a mountain in County Mayo. It has been an important pilgrimage site for hundreds of years. This may be because Saint Patrick often went to the top to pray and fast for 40 days. This could be seen as the Saint partaking in Lent. Even today pilgrims may climb the mountain, sometimes barefooted, as penance and pray to Saint Patrick for a miracle if they are ill or suffering in any way.
Moreover, a surprising place that does celebrate is Montserrat, an island of the British West Indies. In the 17th Century, Irish Catholics colonised the island and settled there. Even their passport stamp is that of a shamrock. Similarly to Irish traditions, they celebrate with a parade that lasts over the course of a week.
In short, Saint Patrick’s Day may be more internationally popular than some may have thought. There are many countries that celebrate in their own way. Hopefully, in the near future, you may be able to see one of those parades for yourself.
Happy St. Patricks Day from us all at The Student Aspect.