by Nareen Pogozelski, sophomore writing coach
Who Was Saint Patrick?
The Feast of Saint Patrick, more widely referred to as Saint Patrick’s Day around the world is a day to celebrate Saint Patrick who is one of the patron saints of Ireland. It is believed that he was captured by Irish Raiders and taken from his home in Roman Britain as a young adult to serve as a slave. After 6 years of captivity, he escaped and returned back home, where he entered the church and soon became a missionary who ministered Christianity within Ireland throughout the fifth century. A popular legend surrounding the Saint that he rid Ireland of snakes, (which possibly symbolizes druids and other pagan worshippers of snakes and/or serpent gods), has been proven false and was a result of exaggerated storytelling. His death on March 17, around the year 460 A.D. is now regarded as a religious holiday, a Roman Catholic feast day.
How Did the Holiday Get to America?
Emigrants who fled to other countries, particularly America, popularized numerous Irish customs and transformed Saint Patrick’s day into the secular holiday it presently is. The first Saint Patrick’s Day parade is shown to have been held in the Spanish colony of what is now St. Augustine, Florida on March 17, 1601; the colony was under the direction of an Irish vicar, Ricardo Artur. Over a century later in 1737, homesick Irish soldiers who were serving in the English military held a celebration in Boston and created the Charitable Irish Society which still holds an annual dinner every year. Similar to Boston, New York was the next American city to celebrate the Saint in 1762, and as a result, they created the everlasting tradition of holding a parade in honor of him. The parades and other celebrations allowed Irish immigrants who were prejudiced and discriminated against by nativist and anti-catholic agendas to show strength in numbers and pride for their heritage and culture. After the civil war, attitudes towards Irish Catholics softened, and as Irish-Americans soon assimilated to American culture the holiday has transformed into a celebratory and festive day for everyone.
What Represents Saint Patrick’s Day?
Contrary to popular belief, green was not always associated with Saint Patrick’s Day, but rather blue. Early depictions of Saint Patrick show him wearing the color blue, however, the country’s nickname of the “Emerald Isle”, the green landscape, and the green within the flag influenced the change in colors during the 18th century. Wearing green was widely believed to make you invisible to leprechauns, who like to pinch anyone they see. The green is also used to signify shamrocks, which was used to explain the Holy Trinity to the Pagan Irish, and is also regarded as good luck by not only the Irish but many people around the world as well.
How is it Celebrated?
March 17th is a day for people around the world to celebrate the memory of Saint Patrick, and it’s done in numerous different ways. Large Irish-American communities celebrate by eating traditional Irish cuisine including corned beef, corned cabbage, coffee, soda bread, potatoes, and shepherd’s pie. A large tradition that many adults participate in is drinking; the holiday allows Christians to put aside their Lenten restrictions on food and alcohol consumption and break their fast, which is why excessive drinking is heavily associated with the day. An additional tradition that is widely recognized within America especially is dyeing water and beer green. The most popular example of this is the dyeing of the Chicago River, a tradition that started in 1962 when Mayor Richard J. Daley suggested it. Throughout the first few years, approximately 100 pounds of oil-based fluorescein were poured into the river; however, after an environmental protest in 1966, the city switched to using 25 pounds of a more eco-friendly vegetable-based powder that left the river green for nearly a whole day, rather than a whole week. Even the White House started a tradition to dye their fountain green in 2009 when former President Obama decided to bring a hometown tradition to former first lady, Michelle Obama- a Chicago native. As stated earlier, wearing green and/or a shamrock are other common traditions within America, and even Ireland has started to adopt some of these traditions for the benefit of tourists.