6 Things You Didn’t Know about St. Patrick’s Day
By Christine H.
St. Patrick’s Day has always seemed like a strange holiday to me. You don’t give gifts, there isn’t really a traditional feast, and customs to mark the season are all over the map – no one seems to have a consistent tradition, except for drinking, perhaps. However, St. Patrick’s day can be really fun when you get into it. It’s a day to celebrate cultural heritage. It’s a day to wish that you were planning a trip to Ireland (I sure do). And it’s a day to start venturing outside, feeling the early stirrings of spring and all the enchantment that that holds. This post has some great ideas for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day–without having to go down to the pub.
Here are some facts that most people don’t know about St. Patrick’s Day. Some might help you while you’re planning out your holiday festivities. Others might just be fun to know!
St. Patrick’s Day became such a big deal because it was a social and cultural statement.
Sure, St. Patrick is pretty cool, but there are hundreds of saints, all with special feast days. How did St. Patrick’s Day become something the whole world marks on their calendars? Well, during Ireland’s great diaspora of the 1800’s, Irish immigrants to new countries were often discriminated against. In America, it was often a combination of their loyal Catholicism (frowned upon in a mostly Protestant nation) and their poverty, as people would come to the new country with little more than the clothes on their backs. In response, the Irish population in various countries banded together, knit by their culture and national pride. St. Patrick’s Day became a day to represent your country and heritage. New York’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade actually started clear back in 1762, before America was even a country! Today, there are more people of Irish descent in America than in Ireland itself, which illustrates how this nationalist movement became a worldwide phenomenon instead of just a few pockets of a little-known culture.
Blue is actually the appropriate color for St. Patrick.
The color we most associate with St. Patrick’s Day is green. Most of this is because St. Patrick’s Day has become more about Ireland itself than about St. Patrick, its patron saint. Known worldwide as the Emerald Isle because of its green countryside, Ireland’s public image is green. However, its traditional color is blue. The country is represented on sports jerseys and coats-of-arms more often as blue. In religious depictions of the Saint, he’s usually wearing blue vestments. I think one of the reasons we favor green at St. Patrick’s Day is because it just suits the season. In the middle of capricious March weather, we like to remember the greenness that the early spring rains herald.
You’ve often seen the shamrock used as a symbol of the holiday.
Some legends say that finding a four-leaf clover (instead of the three leaves of a normal shamrock) is good luck. The shamrock is a symbol for St. Patrick because he used it as a teaching tool. To him, the three leaves represented the Holy Trinity of Catholic teachings (the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). To be honest, that really makes me wonder what the four leaf in a lucky four-leaf clover would represent… what do you think?
St. Patrick’s Day was originally a holy day.
It was a day to focus on spiritual things and worship. St. Patrick is famous for bringing Christianity to Ireland. Up until 1970, St. Patrick’s Day was a dry holiday, because it was a religious observance. Pubs and bars were closed for the day. When it was changed to a national holiday instead, the pubs’ taps started flowing. Today, 13 million pints of Guinness beer is consumed on St. Patrick’s Day!
St. Patrick was not Irish.
Whaaaat?! Yeah, it’s true. His story is actually really interesting. He was born around 432 as Maewyn Succat in what is either modern day Wales or Scotland. He was kidnapped by raiders when he was a teenager, traded as a slave in Ireland, and made to serve as a shepherd. A few years later, he escaped, returned home, and joined the priesthood, where he changed his name to Patrick. Later, he was charged to return to the land where he’d lived in his youth, with a holy calling to bring Christianity to Ireland. During the time of his ministry, he was said to perform miracles which blessed the lives of the Irish and opened their eyes to his faith. Because Catholicism is such a powerful part of Irish culture and values, even today, he became the patron saint of Ireland.
We pinch in honor of snake bites.
Among those miracles that St. Patrick performed is casting all of the snakes out of Ireland. According to the story, snakes set upon St. Patrick one day while he was fasting. In response, he chased every snake in Ireland into the ocean. The fossil record actually indicates that there have never been snakes in Ireland, not since the glacial period, anyway. However, it’s quite possible that these “snakes” were actually a symbol of devils or demons, since that’s common in Christian symbolism. In any case, the fact that you get pinched at St. Patrick’s Day if you’re not wearing green is a custom that sprang from the idea of snake bites.
What are some of your favorite St. Patrick’s Day traditions? Do you do anything fun with your family to mark the season? Share your ideas below!
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