St. Patrick’s Day started as a religious feast in the early seventeenth century, but has transformed into a day filled with festivals and parades which celebrate the Irish culture.
Saint Patrick is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland; he is credited with bringing Christianity to the people of Ireland. The mythology surrounding St. Patrick’s life became ingrained into the Irish culture centuries following his death. One of the most well known legends is that he explained the Holy Trinity to the Irish people using the three leaves on a shamrock. However, his legend has been intertwined with misconceptions. St. Patrick has also been credited for ridding Ireland of all of the snakes in the country but evidence points to the fact that snakes never even existed on the island. Science has shown that snakes likely couldn’t reach Ireland because during the Ice Age the island was too cold for reptiles until it ended 10,000 years ago. After the Ice Age, surrounding seas may have kept snakes from colonizing the Emerald Isle.
Since then, Irish families celebrate St. Patrick on March 17 because that is the day he is said to have died. They honored the day by going to church in the morning and drinking, dancing, and eating the traditional Irish meal of bacon and cabbage in the afternoon.
Interestingly, however, the first parade in his honor took place not in Ireland but in the United States. On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through ç City. Over the next 35 years, Irish patriotism among American immigrants flourished, prompting the rise of so-called “Irish Aid” societies: each group would hold annual parades featuring bagpipes and drums. In 1848, several New York Irish Aid societies decided to unite their parades to form one official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Today, that parade is the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States, with over 150,000 participants. Each year, nearly 3 million people line the 1.5-mile parade route to watch the procession, which takes more than five hours. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Savannah also celebrate the day with parades involving between 10,000 and 20,000 participants each. People of all backgrounds celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, especially throughout the United States, Canada and Australia but also including Japan, Singapore, and Russia.
As we know, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated is by wearing the color green. But blue was actually the original color associated with Ireland, though green gradually became more popular because of its association with Ireland’s nickname, “Emerald Isle”, that green is in Ireland’s flag, and for the color of the clover St. Patrick was said to have used in his teaching of Christianity.
By either wearing green, dressing as a leprechaun, or observing parades, St. Patrick’s Day showcases Ireland and Irish culture to the rest of the world.
Graphic: Maraea Garcia