Today St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world, but how did the Irish holiday come to be? Read on for a brief history of this festive day.
The man that started it all
St. Patrick’s Day began as a day Irish Catholic families gathered to attend mass and share large meals to celebrate St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland.
Although St. Patrick is an important figure in Irish Catholic History, he’s not actually Irish. He was born in Britain around A.D. 390 to an aristocratic Christian family and legend has it that he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland at age 16. He escaped and reunited with his family before returning to Ireland after he heard a voice of encouragement in his dreams. He became a priest and spent the rest of his live converting the Irish to Christianity. March 17 commemorates the day St. Patrick died in A.D. 461.
What started as minor religious holiday grew to include giant parades, festive foods and beverages, leprechauns and everything green. These traditions can be traced back to they day’s lifted prohibitions on eating meat, drinking and dancing during Lent.
It’s not surprising that America is responsible for adding much of these festivities. Amongst the earlier American celebrations happened in Boston in 1737 and New York in 1762. The holiday continued to grow as more Irish immigrants came to the United States and now sees larger festivities in cities across the nation.
Traditions—new and old
People began wearing shamrocks as early as the 17th century. Those three-leaf clovers are associated with St. Patrick’s use of them to represent the Holy Trinity of the Father. Shamrocks are also linked to the American tradition to wear green. Additionally, many wear green to ward off leprechauns, whom are believed to pinch anyone not wearing green – something we see on St. Patrick’s Day around the world. Irish tales describe leprechauns as shoemakers that stashed gold in pots at the end of rainbows or scattered in mountains, forests and rocks. Leprechaun gold was rumored to bring good luck causing people to search for the little fairies.
The traditional Irish dish of St. Patrick’s Day is lamb or bacon; however Irish immigrants in New York popularized the meal of corned beef and cabbage. The tradition came from buying meat from kosher butchers and essentially is Jewish corned beef put in a pot with cabbage and potatoes.