April 13, 2016
St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day is an annual celebration of the patron saint of Ireland, the man credited for spreading Christianity throughout Ireland in the early 5th century. As the story claims, St. Patrick was taken from his home and brought to Ireland where he was enslaved for over six years. During this time St. Patrick found God and became determined to spread Christianity into Ireland, what was then a pagan country. After finally escaping from his captivity and returning to his family he indeed became a priest. Some years later, he followed up on his resolve and traveled back to Ireland to spread the teachings of the Catholic Church. Today, Ireland is comprised of nearly 85 percent Catholics – the highest percentage in the Western world. This is indicative of the long-lasting impact of St. Patrick’s mission in Ireland. The generally accepted day of his death, March 17th, then became a celebration known as St. Patrick’s Feast Day in Ireland as early as the 9th century. In the early 1600s, the Catholic Church made St. Patrick’s Feast Day an official religious holiday, at the same time that colonists in the Americas began the tradition of more specific celebrations dedicated to the work of St. Patrick. Then, in the 18th century, Irish Americans began the tradition of holding large public celebrations on St. Patrick’s Day – a tradition that spread back to Europe and Ireland and now to the rest of the world.
There have been a number of traditions to evolve from the original celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. One of these traditions has been the copious consumption of alcohol, in particular Irish beers such as Guinness and Irish whiskeys. This tradition, which some may find surprising, actually came from the Catholic Church lifting restrictions on food and alcohol during the period of Lent in order to properly celebration St. Patrick’s Feast Day. As Lent is the traditional six week observance of fasting, self-denial of luxuries, and repentance of sins the lifting of these restrictions by the Church meant that nearly all Christians would take part in this day of celebration – both for the feast and the permission to drink alcohol. Another tradition closely linked to the teachings of the Church is the use of shamrock symbols. According to the lore of St. Patrick, he used the three-leaved shamrock to describe the holy trinity of God to the pagans of Ireland when he was spreading the gospel in the 5th century. A third tradition, the wearing of green clothing, has been associated with the green flag of the Irish Republic dating back to the 1600s.
Since the start of the 20th century, celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day have taken on many different forms and new traditions in the United States. For instance, Chicago has traditionally put green dye in the water of the Chicago River to celebrate the holiday while the White House fountain has been dyed green since 2009. Major New England cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Boston have held major parades since the early 1800s. Festivals moved westward starting in the early 1900s, and now almost every major city in the US holds some sort of St. Patrick’s Day parade and festival. Growing up in the United States, there is a tradition of being pinched for not wearing green on St Patrick’s Day, though this was more of a threat as a teenager than as an adult. This youthful tradition has been replaced by bar crawls, parades, street celebrations, and general revelry. While few people actually know of St. Patrick, the history of the traditions, and why it has become one of the most celebrated holidays in the world, people in the United States are happy to have the excuse of going out for a drink with their friends in a sea of green. In fact, it is estimated that over 4.5 billion dollars was spent this past St. Patrick’s Day by individuals going out to celebrate at bars around the country. So in order to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the American tradition, there is only one more thing to be said: Cheers!