After the dead of winter, St. Patrick's Day is a welcome sign of spring; a day for wearing of the green, for the Irish and non-Irish alike. It's a celebration of the Emerald Isle's patron saint, but now it is time to separate St. Patrick fact--from the blarney.
The story of St. Patrick's Day goes back to fifth century Britain, where a sixteen year old boy, Maewyn Succat, was kidnapped by Irish marauders. He remained a shepherd slave in Ireland for six years until a vision directed him to escape. Back home in Britain, Maewyn had another vision beckoning him to help the the people of Ireland. So he took his vows as a priest, adopted the Christian name Patrick, and in 432 A.D., returned to Ireland on a mission. In his autobiography, The Confessor, Patrick wrote about converting the Irish to Christianity while also building schools and monasteries along Ireland's north and west coast.
One popular myth has Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. The truth is, there were never snakes on the island. This is probably a metaphor for Patrick cleansing the island of paganism. Another myth has Patrick using the shamrock to teach the holy trinity. This legend is possible, but Patrick never wrote about it.
So why does the holiday fall on March 17th? Supposedly it is the day Patrick died in 461 A.D.. Since then, Irish Christians have marked the anniversary as a holy day. Beginning in the middle ages, Irish Catholics would close shop and attend church to honor the feast of St. Patrick. And it was a time to celebrate. St. Patrick's Day falls within Lent, the season before Easter when Catholics give up their vices as penance. The feast of St. Patrick was a one day reprieve when Irishmen could down a pint or two of ale. This custom really took off.
The first St. Patrick's Day in colonial America occurred in Boston in 1737 with a parade organized by the Charitable Irish Society. New York City followed in 1762. Today, New York's Fifth Avenue is America's most famous, largest, and rowdiest St. Patrick's Day tradition.
During the 1840s, when Ireland was starving from the potato famine, millions were forced to leave. The mass migration sent Irish to Canada, Australia and America. As the Irish settled in their new countries, they brought along old customs and invented a few more. In the United States, it became customary to wear green on St. Patrick's Day. Toward the end of the 19th century, the smell of corned beef wafted from Irish-American neighborhoods. The traditional Irish meal was boiled bacon and potatoes, but in the United States, immigrants could find a cheap piece of beef, tenderize it with brine, and slow cook it cabbage. The dish remains a delicious Patty's Day tradition.
As the Irish in America gained influence in politics and culture, their exclusive holiday became a nationally recognized celebration. And it all began over 1500 years ago, when a boy was torn from his family. Little could he know, that his life would inspire parades, fashion, and yes, the hoisting of a few pints to host his special day.
The traditional color associated with Saint Patrick is actually blue! There is even a particular shade of blue known as Saint Patrick's Blue. Green is a color that became associated with Ireland, both because of the Emerald Isle, which came from the greenness of the land, and because of the shamrock, which Saint Patrick used to explain the trinity. The shamrock became a symbol of Irish-Catholic nationalism. The tradition of wearing green on St. Patrick's Day is derived from the tradition of picking a shamrock and putting in the lapel of your jacket. Then, when you had the United Irish Uprising in 1798, they took the popular connection of a national saint and the wearing of the green, and they applied it politically. They translated it into garments--their uniforms were green. Here in the United States, it became associated with showing an identification with Ireland and green has become ubiquitous on St. Patrick's Day.
Did you know that the patron saint of Ireland wasn't Irish? That he was born in Britain? And kidnapped? Britain was a Roman colony. When Rome withdrew its legions, because of the fall of the empire in the West, the Irish began to raid Britain, take the inhabitants, kidnap them, and use them as slaves. One of the people they kidnapped and used as a slave was Patrick. He was there for many years, and escaped, went back, became a priest in Europe, and then was called back to Ireland by a dream. He converted Ireland from pagan, Celtic culture, like worshiping the sun, to Christianity. St. Patrick's Day has been celebrated in Ireland and among the Irish people since not long after the death of Saint Patrick.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Watch some great videos about Saint Patrick here! Here is an excerpt from the videos. Very interesting stuff!
Posted by Hilary Castles at 10:17 AM
Labels: Catholics, Green, Irish Civil War, Saint Patrick, shamrocks, St. Patrick's Day
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Oh St. Patrick's Day! I do love me some corned beef and cabbage! My Dad's side is 100% Irish (&Catholic). His mom's family came from Australia to the US after WWI :)
And about the "snakes"... Have you seen this someecard? I lol'd... I hope you find it funny and not sacrilegious --> http://www.someecards.com/upload/st_patricks_day/lets_worship_someone_who_possibly.html
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