Today is the day- the day university and college students have been waiting for all year. The day you head to the back of the closet and dig out that one green shirt you always think about getting rid of every time you clean your room but never do because then what would you wear on March 17? The day everyone you know casts aside whatever culture, religion or nation they associate themselves with and become “Irish for the day”.
For those of you who fell into a deep sleep for thousands of years and are waking up today wondering why everyone is dressed in green and getting drunk before noon, or if you simply don’t own a calendar, today is Saint Patrick’s Day!
But have you ever wondered people all over the world celebrate the patron saint of Ireland when they’re not Irish, nor are they Catholic? So did we, so today we bring you some of the history and customs behind everyone’s favourite green holiday-that’s-not-a-holiday.
Who was Saint Patrick Anyways?
For someone who is practically Ireland’s mascot, you may be surprised to find out that the guy wasn’t actually Irish! Gasp! An imposter!
There is some disagreement among historians as to where Saint Patrick was born. According to his autobiography, he came from a village called “Bannavem Taberniae”, which conveniently no longer exists on any map of any country in Europe. The general consensus seems to be that he came from somewhere in England, so that’s what we’re going to go with from now on.
What is known is that he was born into an aristocratic Christian family who owned an estate- young Patrick was not living in poverty. Despite his family’s religious leanings, as a boy Patrick was pretty uninterested in religion. This all changed when he was 16 years old.
Tragedy struck when teenage Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland, where he spent the next six years in captivity as a sheep herder. Being away from all his friends, family, and basically everything he knew and loved, he became lonely and turned to his family’s faith for comfort.
The story goes that one day Patrick heard “the voice of God” telling him to leave Ireland, so he walked 200 miles to the coast, got on a ship and sailed back home to his family in Britain. Somebody get that guy a fitbit.
Once he got home though, Patrick could not forget Ireland and the people he met there. One night, an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Patrick studied fervently for the next few years, became ordained as a priest and returned to the Emerald Isle where he remained for the next 40 years spreading the Christian Faith to the pagan celtic population.
The Man, the Myth, the Legend
When Patrick died on March 17, 461 (hey! That’s today! Saint Patrick’s day! Folks, that’s not a coincidence.) he died in relative anonymity. It was through stories, some mostly truth, some mostly myth, passed down through the centuries that he became a superhero of Christians in Ireland and a symbol of Irish pride.
One of these myths is that St. Patrick drove all of the snakes out of Ireland. This is interesting because Ireland never had any snakes to begin with. Being an island, it is entirely surrounded by very cold water, making it impossible for snakes to swim over from, well, anywhere. The story is meant to be a symbol of St. Patrick cleansing Ireland of Paganism, but we can’t help but wonder how many people actually thought the saint was responsible for the distinct lack of serpents on the Island.
Where does the Shamrock come from?
So here’s the thing: the shamrock is not an actual plant that exists. There are many plants with leaves that are split into 3, but the shamrock itself is not actually real. Again, this is where “Saint Patrick the legend” comes into play. The story goes that he used the 3 leaves of the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. This is why, when people first began celebrating St. Patrick’s day, they pinned these little green plants to their lapels as a symbol of Irish pride. Eventually this grew into people wearing green clothes as well, hence why every University town in the country turns into a sea of green every March 17.
When did St. Patrick’s day become a booze-fest?
The wild celebrations that we associate with March 17 actually started in America, not Ireland. The first documented parade (we use the term “parade” quite loosely here) occurred in 1762 in New York City when a group of Irish soldiers marched down to a tavern in lower Manhattan. The idea really took off after the the great famine in the 1840s, when Irish immigrants began pouring into the United States, particularly into New York City and Boston.
What should I eat on Saint Patrick’s Day?
Ok, so technically there isn’t any traditional Saint Patrick’s Day food, and you could go the moderately tacky but still very fun route of eating regular foods that have been dyed green (we’re not against green pancakes, cupcakes, cake pops, or anything really with cake in the title). Some of you may choose to forgo food altogether and just drink green beer all day, although this approach is not recommended.
For those of you who want to really get into the spirit and “be Irish for the day”, you should check out our post from yesterday to learn all about traditional Irish foods. Irish stew, soda bread, and colcannon or champ would all be great options, and if you don’t feel like making it yourself, you probably won’t be hard-pressed to find a bar somewhere serving up traditional Irish fare.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, folks!