The History of St. Patrick’s Day
Dear Irish (and American) friends, happy belated St. Patrick’s Day! After the 17th century, it became a national and religious celebration in Ireland, honoring the Irish patron saint. The History of St. Patrick’s Day, nevertheless, is a more intricate one.
And why does Manhattan turn green every March 17th? In a nutshell, for the same reason Halloween was transformed from an old pagan, Celtic feast into an American (and then worldwide) celebration, with commercial connotations. Thousands of Irish people immigrated to the United States of America in the 19th century, bringing along their traditions and celebrations. It is, of course, the biggest celebration in Ireland, but a “river” of beer is drunk in America as well on the occasion.
But what do we celebrate with beer, shamrock lockets, leprechaun costumes, funky hats and most anything green? Saint Patrick is believed to have lived in the Roman Britain in the 5th century. Born into a wealthy family, he was kidnapped at 16 and sold into slavedom in Gaelic Ireland. It was there that, toiling as a shepherd, he converted to Christianity and went on to become a priest, bishop and missionary. The conversion of Ireland to Christianity is attributed to him and the day of his death, March 17th, is celebrated annually.
There is a legend claiming that St. Patrick chased away all snakes from Ireland. (Although modern-day critique tends to see this in a metaphorical light, the snake symbolizing sin and paganism).
In time, the celebration of St. Patrick would come to encompass all things Irish – especially the Irish national color, green. In 1798, the Irish Rebellion took place. To contrast with their opponents, the red coated British, the Irish wore green. Hence the song “The Wearing of the Green” and the color of leaves and nature becoming equivalent with Ireland.
If you’ve missed this year’s celebration, don’t worry: you can visit Ireland whenever you like. Start with their capital city and drive your Dublin rental car along the historical town center!