Saint Patrick’s day is on March 17 and is a holiday that dyes so much food green, it puts Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” to shame. It is a feast day for the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, who is credited with playing a major part in Christianizing pagan Ireland. It is a day filled with cultural, green icons and an array of food, but where did these traditions start? Let’s take another look at this holiday and all the traditions people continue to observe in order to make it special.
The leprechaun and the shamrock are some of the most recognizable mascots for this holiday. When we look deeper into their background, they each have an interesting origin story!
The leprechaun’s beginnings can be traced back to Irish mythology and folklore. The Celts had beliefs in magic, fairies and of course, Leprechauns. They were traditionally ill-tempered individuals whose Celtic name means, “small-bodied.” Famous for their habits of trickery, we associate them with a pot of gold, which they hid at one end of the rainbow. They are usually depicted in a green suit and a ginger beard, as we often see them in modern times.
The shamrock, too, has an even deeper and political past to it. In the days of Irish resistance to the English rule, this was a time when the British government was quelling Ireland’s freedom, its roots and religion. As a way to demonstrate against the oppression, the Irish wore shamrock pins, buttons and labels in order to distinguish themselves and give a sign of national patriotism. In addition, it is said that St. Patrick used to portray the three corners of the shamrock as a representation of the Holy Trinity in Christian doctrine. He spread such teachings in the year 431 while on a mission to convert pagan Ireland towards the Christian Gospel. That is why today when the figure of St. Patrick is represented somewhere, he can be found holding a three-leaf clover.
Moving onto food, traditionally in the US corned beef and cabbage are consumed. Bars are famous for offering hearty amounts of green beer. And to top it all off, green-colored desserts such as cakes and cookies fill the bellies of most party-goers. The Chicago River is even dyed green to commemorate this day!
However, it wouldn’t be a real holiday if it didn’t have a parade. New York City is the host of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world. The first time this event took place was back in 1762, organized by Irish members of the British army stationed in the New York colony. Where Irish pride was stifled in Ireland under British rule, in the colony, they were able to celebrate their heritage along with other Irish immigrants who came to America. Eventually, as the official wave of Irish immigrants came in the 19th century, the parade was a welcome reminder of their home and heritage. The parade marches down 5th Avenue, and rightly so, passes Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. The Archbishop of New York can be spotted standing on the front steps, watching as the parade moves by.
Due to the pandemic, the parade will be canceled for the second year in a row. In 2020, this event was one of the first major public occasions that were shut down as a result of COVID-19, with all others following suit. Reminding us to find new ways to celebrate this holiday, such as by decking out in an all-green outfit, or by looking at the simple clover plant with a little more appreciation.