Mora na maidine dhuit, everybody! (Top of the morning to you!)
Hope you’re wearing your green today, else you might get a pinch!
What could be better than a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Well…ok, nothing, but I can offer you the next best thing, the history of St. Patrick’s Day, brought to you by yours truly, Your friendly neighborhood history geek!
Today is one of my favorite holidays, and was an important holiday for my family. It was my Papa’s (Mom’s dad) favorite holiday, March was his favorite month, he was born ten days before St. Patrick’s Day. He liked to honor his Irish side of the family, deck out in green, and be the family leprechaun. He sadly passed away in 1993, ironically in his favorite month of March. Today I not only recognize St. Patrick’s Day, I recognize my Papa and his love of our family’s Irish heritage. So come along with me on one of my favorite holidays and let’s explore what St. Patrick’s Day is all about.
St. Patrick’s Day honors St. Patricius, the patron saint of Ireland.
Who was this Patricius?
His birth name was Maewyn Succat, the son of a Roman British army officer. He was born in or around 370 A.D. and spent the first five years of his life in England before he and several others were kidnapped by pirates that had invaded South Wales. The pirates sold their kidnapped victims into slavery. Young Maewyn ended up imprisoned in Ireland for six years before escaping to France. While in France, he became a Christian, joined a monastery and studied under St. Germain of Auxerre for 12 years. He had dreams and visions that he believed were sent from God, and many of these dreams he documented in his autobiography, The Confession. One of these God-given dreams he had told him to go to Ireland.
The Irish at the time were still Pagans, and he converted them to Christianity. He used a three-leaf shamrock to explain the Trinity to them, and the shamrock became a holy symbol and his sort of ‘signature’ way of explaining Christianity to the former Pagans to help them find God.
The way he went about converting was what made him so admired and successful with converts. Where some, such as the early Romans, used forceful tactics and fear to convert people into Christianity, Patrick used love, kindness, patience, and understanding, following the exact teachings of Jesus, not only telling them about God, but showing them by example what it meant to actually be loved by God. The Celtic Druids, who bore similarities to the Pharisees when it came to their religion, arrested St. Patrick several times. Despite how many times they imprisoned him, he managed to escape, with mystifying odds, and he attributed his ability to escape to God’s rescuing of him so as to not interrupt his mission.
St. Patrick set up several churches and schools to help his converts learn more about God and the Christian faith, and was so loved that he was called The Patron Saint of Ireland.
On March 17th, 461 A.D. he died, but people didn’t mourn. They celebrated, for they knew where he was; at peace in heaven. Each March 17th the Irish remember St. Patrick, and hold feasts in his honor. The traditional dish of corned beef and cabbage became so because many of the Irish were poor, and corned beef and cabbage was a meal they could afford.
The tradition of commemorating St. Patrick spread throughout Europe and then to America with the arrival of Irish immigrants. Many of the “symbols” of St. Patrick’s day such as the Leprechaun and the wearing of the green developed much later (the original color St. Patrick was associated with was actually BLUE, not green!), and were incorporated into the St. Patrick’s Day observation simply as a way of combining symbols of Irish culture when the Irish immigrated to other countries. The Leprechaun is from an old Irish folk tale. The legend of the Blarney Stone, a stone which is set in the wall of Blarney Castle that brings luck to whomever kisses it, is what made St. Patrick’s Day the ‘Lucky’ holiday we know it as today.
It wasn’t really until the Irish came to America that green became the color to wear, as St. Patrick was associated with the color blue. The Catholics wore blue and Protestants wore orange to protest the Catholic holiday of St. Patrick’s Day. Wearing of the green was supposed to symbolize the shamrock St. Patrick used to explain the Trinity and also to symbolize the lush green hills of Ireland that the American Irish missed from home. When it came to wearing green, the wealthy in the 18th century could afford shamrock lapels but for the poor, their version of a shamrock lapel was wearing a cloth or a band that was dyed green. The very first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in the late 18th century as a way of welcoming the Irish to America, and many attendees wore green.
It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that everyone started to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and it became the major holiday it’s known today. Anyone could attend the parades but the only ones that celebrated St. Patrick’s Day were the Irish and/or Catholics. Today, St. Patrick’s Day has become a festivity that can be enjoyed by everyone, not just the Irish/Catholics, and is celebrated with parades, traditional dinners, and yes, booze!
Dhia dhuit! (God be with you) and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!