Happy St. Patrick’s Day! ’Tis the Wearing of the Green, so pin on your shamrock, watch out for leprechauns, and pass the corned beef and cabbage.
Yes, the venerable observance named for Ireland’s primary patron saint has become a holiday throughout the world. Like many holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, the commemoration has taken on multiple layers over the centuries.
At its heart, March 17 is the day tradition says St. Patrick died. Originally it was a feast day, a day of spiritual renewal, and was celebrated from the 9th or 10th Century, although one source says the Catholic Church made it an official feast day in the 1600s.
Who was St. Patrick? He was born in Roman Britain in about 385 AD of Roman-British descent. He says in his Confessio ( Confession) that at the age of 16, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland where he became a slave and tended sheep. After four years, he escaped when he had a dream in which God told him to go to the coast. He did, and found sailors willing to give him passage (after he prayed for God to give them a sign).
He returned home, where, some years later, he reported he had a vision of a man who handed him a letter headed “The Voice of the Irish.” When Patrick started to read, he heard the voices of many saying, ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.'”
This inspired him to study for the priesthood. He was ordained and eventually sent to Ireland, arriving March 25, in the year 433.
Some traditions say he brought Christianity to Ireland, but other scholars report that Christian missionaries were already in Ireland when he arrived. However, he took his message throughout the countryside, converting thousands of people and building churches.
He is said to have explained the Holy Trinity using the shamrock. This symbol proved effective, sources say, because the people were familiar with triads from their Celtic deities. However it occurred, St. Patrick was extremely successful in converting the Irish to Christianity.
There are conflicting theories on the year of his death, but the most commonly accepted is 461. He was buried on cathedral hill, (where Down Cathedral later was built) in Downpatrick, about 21 miles south of what is now Belfast, Ireland.
He drove the snakes from Ireland. That’s one of the most famous myths surrounding the saint. In fact, scientists say, there were never snakes on that island. No one can really say why, however.
These days, we’re so familiar with the celebratory nature of the holiday—wearing green, marching in parades, eating corned beef and cabbage. Oddly enough, blue was always associated with St. Patrick. However, over the years various Irish rebellious organizations adopted green as their color and green has since been associated with Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day.
Ironically, the first recorded St. Patrick’s Day parade was held —you guessed it—in the U.S. In 1762, Irish soldiers stationed with the British army in the Colonies marched in New York City.
And that traditional Irish fare of corned beef and cabbage—isn’t. In Ireland, beef was too valuable to be eaten by the ordinary people. They dined on pork—bacon or ham. Not until immigrants arrived in the U.S. to find beef the cheaper meat did it supplant ham/bacon.
Often associated with the Day’s celebration, yet not connected with St. Patrick, leprechauns are straight from the Celtic folk tales. They’re mischievous sprites who love to plague humans and who guard their treasure by fair means or foul.
Perhaps mortals will never find the leprechauns’ gold at the end of the rainbow. But the culture of the world is richer for this holiday honoring the saint who was instrumental in bringing Christianity to Ireland and inspiring a tradition that—for one day—brings people of all nationalities together. Because as the saying goes, “On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish.”
Do you have a special tradition for St. Patrick’s Day? When I was in school ‘back in the day’, if someone wasn’t wearing something green, they got a pinch. I rode a school bus, and there was plenty of squealing and smacking of hands when the guys started checking out the girls for green. I remember an incident when one senior boy pinched the wrong gal. She got up from her seat and smacked him around the shoulders and arms. (He’d thrown them up in front of his face to deflect her slaps.) all the way down the aisle to the back of the bus. The driver stopped the bus and gave them a talking to while the rest of us kids looked on in awe. They were venerable seniors, for heaven’s sake!
http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/lebor4.html (The Tuatha de Dannan)