Saint Patrick's Day Celebrations
Who was St. Patrick?
St. Patrick of Ireland, is one of Christianity’s most widely known figures. He was born in Britain to wealthy parents near the end of the fourth century. He is believed to have died on March 17, around 460 A.D.
At the age of 16, Patrick was taken prisoner by Irish raiders who were attacking his family’s estate. They transported him to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity.
During this time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Here he turned to religion for comfort, becoming a devout Christian.
After more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick escaped to Britain after hearing a voice – which he believed to be God’s - spoke to him in a dream, telling him it was time to leave. It was there that he reported a second revelation–an angel in a dream tells him to return to Ireland as a missionary. After 15 years of religious training, he was ordained as a priest, he was sent to Ireland to minister to Christians already living in Ireland, and to begin to convert the Irish.
Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional customs into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to abolish native Irish beliefs. For example, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter whereas the Irish would honor their gods with fire. He also added a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that honoring the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish.
Today, people of all backgrounds celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, especially the United States, Canada and Australia. Although North America celebrates with the largest activities, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many other locations such as Japan, Singapore and Russia.
St. Patrick's Day Celebrations
The most common traditions on St. Patrick's Day include wearing green, enjoying Irish folk music and food, and by consuming large quantities of Irish beer (sometimes dyed green),
Did you know in the United States, St. Patrick's Day would not be St. Patrick's Day unless the Chicago River is dyed green? This tradition began in 1962, when Chicago pollution-control workers used green dye to trace illegal sewage discharges in the river. The workers thought it might be a fun way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, so they released 100 pounds of green vegetable dye into the river – enough to keep it green for a week! The idea was a hit, and continues to this day. However, only 40 pounds of dye are used today to minimize environmental damage.
St. Patrick's Day is celebrated worldwide by the Irish, those of Irish descent, and everyone else who enjoys being "Irish for a day." A major parade takes place in Dublin and in most other Irish towns and villages. The three largest parades of recent years have been held in Dublin, New York and Birmingham England.
Symbols of St. Patrick's Day
According to Christian legend, St. Patrick used the three-leafed clover to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity to the pagans in Ireland.
In ancient Ireland, the Celtic people honored the shamrock as a sacred plant because it symbolized the rebirth of spring. By the 17th century, when the English began to seize Irish land and suppress Irish language and religion, the shamrock became a symbol of Irish nationalism.
Corned Beef and Cabbage
Corned beef and cabbage is the traditional meal enjoyed by many on St. Patrick's Day, but only half of it is truly Irish. Cabbage has long been a staple of the Irish diet, but it was traditionally served with Irish bacon, not corned beef. The corned beef was substituted for bacon by Irish immigrants to the Americas around the turn of the century who could not afford the real thing. They learned about the cheaper alternative from their Jewish neighbors.
The tiny creatures we know as leprechauns were known in ancient Irish as "lobaircin," meaning "small-bodied fellow." Belief in leprechauns probably stems from Celtic belief in fairies, tiny creatures that could use their magical powers for good or evil. In Celtic folklore, the lobaircin were cranky fairies who mended the shoes of the other fairies. They were also mischievous and delighted in trickery, which they used to guard their fabled treasure.
The cheerful friendly version of the leprechaun known to us today is based largely on Walt Disney's 1959 film Darby O'Gill and the Little People. It quickly evolved into a symbol of St. Patrick's Day and Ireland in general.
May your blessings outnumber
the shamrocks that grow,
and may trouble avoid you
wherever you go.