March 17th: St. Patrick’s Day
The parades and the parties might be cancelled, but that does not mean the fun has to end. St. Patrick’s Day is more than just a day of consuming copious amounts of Guinness and carrying around a box of Lucky Charms. It is a day with a vibrant history. A story that has been, in a way, lost and over shadowed by the sparkle and flair of the parties dedicated to a man most don’t even know.
Let’s begin at the very beginning. Patrick was born in the 4th century, meaning year 301 AD to 400 AD, in Roman Britain, not Ireland. In saying Roman Britain, I mean the area of the island, yes Great Britain is an island, of Britain that was ruled by the Roman Empire. Patrick was born into a wealthy Romano-British Christian family, but early in his life things took a drastic turn. When he was only 16 years old he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken back to Gaelic, Ireland to be a slave – this is where the whole Irish shenanigans begins. Patrick apparently spent six years working as a poor slave, but also as a Shepard. During his time working as a Shepard Patrick “found God”. God told him, “Flee to the coast Patrick. There will be a ship waiting to take you home”. Patrick listened to this message and immediately fled to the coast, it was his chance to return home!
Patrick arrived back home to Britain, around year 432 AD, where he became a priest and a missionary. According to tradition, at this point Patrick began to convert the Pagan Irish to Christianity. He managed to evangelise the entire Northern half of Ireland converting thousands of people. He established monasteries, churches, and schools in Ireland.
Legend has it Patrick died on March 17th, 461 AD. He was 76 years old (385 AD – 461 AD) and was buried in Downpatrick, Ireland.
Now that we are all following the same story, here come the tall tales! So most, if not all, the information we have about St. Patrick comes from The Declaration. Well, it’s a declaration what’s not to believe? The twist to the story is that this declaration was thought to be written by St. Patrick himself – yes, he wrote his own story!
One of the more popular tales of St. Patrick states that he “chased the snakes out of Ireland”. But, what does this mean? Snakes were not known to be native to this area, so that leads to the assumption that this is an allegory. Patrick’s efforts against the Druids (members of the high-ranking class in ancient Celtic cultures) by forcing them to leave were turned into the allegory that he drove the “snakes” (the Druids) out of Ireland.
Let’s get into the fun facts! St. Patrick’s Day also known as Feast day of Saint Patrick Patron Saint of Ireland was made an official Christian “Feast Day” in the early 17th century. This holiday was observed by The Catholic Church, The Anglican Communion (Church of Ireland), Eastern Orthodox Church, and Lutheran Church. For the religious establishments March 17th is a day that commemorates not only St. Patrick but the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. In general, it also celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish. People are meant to attend church services on this day and historically, Lenten (period of lent, which stretches from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday) restrictions on eating and drinking are lifted for the day – hence the drinking habits people exhibit on this day!
St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in Ireland, Newfoundland and Labrador, and The British Overseas Territory of Montserrat, but is also widely celebrated in the UK, Canada, USA, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand. St. Patrick’s Day is actually, surprisingly, celebrated in more countries than any other national festivities. Some March 17th festivities include events such as: parades, wearing green, shamrocks, festivals, and ceilis (traditional Irish or Scottish social gatherings with dancing and folk music).
Parades started in North America in the 18th century, but the idea never spread across the ocean to Ireland until the 20th century. Actually, in Ireland the week of St. Patrick’s is considered “Irish Language Week”! Flocks of Irish dancers, beautiful floats, bag pipe players, and any Irish for the day march the streets shouting St. Patrick’s Day cheer. Both the parade in Montreal and Dublin are world renowned for the size and quality of show they put on, but unfortunately this year both are cancelled! Boooo!
Did you know the worlds shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade was in an Irish village lasting only 100 yards? Yes, this is the truth! The parade was only 100 yards long stretching from the door of one pub, you guessed it, all the way to the door of the other village pub!
Another fun fact, a little closer to home, is that the Montreal St. Patrick’s Day parade started in 1759 when Tadhg Cornelius O’Brennan arrived in Montreal in a wave of Irish Catholics escaping the war and poor harvests.
Why must we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day? Because if you don’t you might get pinched and grow an inch!!! It is customary to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. It could be because in the 1640’s the green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation further associating green with Ireland. Or it could be the fact that green ribbons have been worn on March 17th since at least 1680. In a matter of fact green became the national colour of Ireland in 1790 because of the United Irishmen, who were a political organization inspired by the American Revolution. Aside from wearing green until about the early 20th century it was a popular custom in Ireland to wear a “St. Patrick’s Day Cross”. This was a Celtic Christian cross made from paper that was then covered in silk or ribbon of different colours and a rosette of green silk resting in the centre.
Shamrocks, shamrocks, shamrocks! What is St. Patty’s day without a shamrock? St. Patrick actually used the shamrock to explain the trinity to help convert the Irish to Christianity. Each leaf of the shamrock (three-leafed clover) has a different meaning: hope, faith, and love. Luck gets involved when a forth leaf is added to the equation explaining why four-leafed clovers are considered so lucky.
It is a tradition that every March 17th the Irish Government ministers travel abroad on official visits to various countries around the world to promote Ireland. However, the most important visit, started in 1952, is that of the Irish President (Taoisearch) with the President of the United States of America. During this visit the Irish President offers the US President a Waterford crystal bowl filled with shamrocks. How fun!!!
A little less professional is another tradition we like to call “Drowning the Shamrock”. At the end of a St. Patrick’s Day celebration a shamrock is put at the bottom of a cup and is filled with Irish Whiskey, beer, or cider. This concoction is then drunk as a toast to St. Patrick, Ireland, and all those present. The shamrock at the bottom of the cup is either swallowed with the drink or it is taken out and tossed over your shoulder for good luck!
Did you know that the flag of Montreal includes a four-leafed clover?
Fast Fun Facts:
- On Feast Day of St. Patrick the Patron of Ireland you are supposed to eat corned beef and cabbage. Yummy!
- Patron saints are chosen to protect the interests of a country, place, group, trade, activity, or profession and to intercede for them in heaven
- St. Patrick was born in Britain and is in fact not Irish at all!
- Following a vision St. Patrick returned to Ireland to Christianize the Irish people
- The first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the USA was in Boston in 1737
- On March 17th, 1762 New York City had the first official parade
- Shamrocks are the national flower/emblem of Ireland
- The colour of St. Patrick’s Day was originally blue
- 1962 was the first time Chicago dyed their river green for St. Patrick’s Day
- There are 34.7 million US residents with Irish ancestry. This is more than 7X the population of Ireland
- Odds of finding a 4-leafed clover are 1 in 10,000
- St. Patrick never got canonized by a pope making his saintly status somewhat questionable
- There is no such thing as a female leprechaun! In Irish traditional folk tales leprechauns are nattily attired little guys who mend shoes.
- Guinness beer sales soar on March 17th!