Monday, March 15, 2010

St. Patrick's Day

Photo Credit: Puzzler 4879
St. Patrick's day is coming up this week, so let's talk a little about the "green" holiday, and why and how we celebrate.  St. Patrick's Day (March 17) is a Public holiday in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and is widely celebrated in many other areas, but is not an official holiday.  St. Patrick's feast is on the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church - it is a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics, and  usually falls during Lent.  On the occasion that the 17th falls during the Holy Week, it is observed on another day.  The last time this happened was in 2008. 

Now for some history on St. Patrick, whose life we honor and celebrate on this day.  He was born in the 5th century in Roman Britain (the portion of Britain controlled by the Roman Empire).  His father was a deacon in the church as was his grandfather. St. Patrick was kidnapped at 16 and held in Ireland somewhere near the West Coast.  After a time he had a dream in which God told him to escape his captors and return to Britain.  There he joined the church and studied to become a priest.  In 432 he was called to return to Ireland as a bishop to save the Irish.  He died on March 18, 461 AD after 35 years of spreading God's word.  He is held in high esteem as the Champion of Irish Christianity.

Although blue was originally associated with St. Patrick, he used the 3-leafed plant known as a Shamrock  to explain the Holy Trinity to the pre-Christian Irish people.  The displaying and wearing of shamrock-inspired objects symbolized this, and green became the color associated with St. Patrick.  This is how the phrase "wearing of the green" came about.  As to the stories of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, it is likely that is a metaphor for bringing Christianity to Ireland.

St. Patrick's Day, once only a religious holiday, became a public holiday in 1903.  Law required that all pubs be closed on March 17, (horrors!) and this was not repealed until the 1970s.  The first St. Patrick's Day parade in Ireland was held in Dublin in 1931.  Parades have been held in the U.S. since 1737, when the first one was held in Boston.  St. Patrick's Day remains a religious observation for the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church.  Traditionally, Irish families would attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon.  The no-meat-during-lent restriction was waived, and people would dance, drink and feast on Irish bacon and cabbage, the traditional Irish fare.

For the rest of the world, Irish or not, it is a reason to celebrate with St. Paddy's Day parties.  Things tend to turn green everywhere.  Chicago has been dyeing its river since 1961.  Savannah dyes its city fountains green, and Indianapolis dyes its main canal green.  There are green beers, green-iced cakes and cookies, and you must always wear green or risk being pinched.  The pinching is actually an American tradition started in the early 1700s, and is not related to either St. Patrick or Ireland.  At the same time that St. Patrick's Day became widely celebrated, it was also thought that wearing green made one invisible to Leprechauns.  This was good because the Leprechauns would pinch everyone they could see.  Pinching, therefore, became a warning and reminder to watch out for Leprechauns.

So, how do you celebrate the "green" holiday?  


  1. I never left a comment about this post, which was very interesting. I liked how St. Patrick used the 3-leafed Shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity.

    This was a well written and interesting writeup about St. Patrick's day and the reason for it.

    Thanks and I apologize for missing it:~)

  2. Hi Sara, thanks for taking the time to read this. It was hanging out there feeling so unloved. ;)


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