Saint Patrick's Day
Saint Patrick's Day, also known as the Feast of Saint Patrick, is celebrated on March 14th. Saint Patrick (AD 385-461) is the main patron saint of Ireland. This day celebrates his coming to Ireland with parades, festivals, and the colour green. March 14th is the death date of Saint Patrick and was recognized in Christian tradition as an official day of celebration in the 1600's. It is also associated with alcohol consumption as the restrictions of Lent (a period of fasting and atonement) were lifted for the day.
Saint Patrick is said to have been born into a wealthy family in Britain. At 16, he was kidnapped and enslaved in Ireland where he spent 6 years as a shepherd and found God. After this, he fled Ireland and returned home to become a priest. He later returned to Ireland to convert the Druids (a group of religious, political, and societal leaders) to Christianity. He converted so many that his story became famous and eventually became the story of how he drove the "snakes" (the Druids) out of Ireland.
Shamrocks or clovers are a traditional symbol of Saint Patrick's Day. This is because Saint Patrick is said to have used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to the Irish in his conversion efforts. Depictions of Saint Patrick often show him holding a cross in one hand and a shamrock in the other.
The colour green became linked to Ireland in several ways:
- Green is the colour of shamrocks, a traditional symbol of Saint Patrick's Day as mentioned above.
- The 11th century Book of the Taking of Ireland tells the story of Goidel Glas, ancestor of the Gaels (Irish), who was bitten by a deadly snake. Moses (a legendary Christian figure) touched his staff to the bite, saving Goidel, but leaving a green mark to remind him of the incident for the rest of his life. It also prophesied that he would lead his people to a land that would be free of snakes (i.e. Ireland). His name - Glas - is the Irish word for green.
- The Book of the Taking of Ireland tells of another story in which a man climbs a tower in Spain and sees a beautiful green island in the distance. He is so excited about the island (Ireland) that he sets sail for it immediately.
- In the 1640's a green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation.
- The United Irishmen used green as the colour of their organization that rebelled against British rule in 1798.
A type of fairy, Leprechauns are a traditional part of Irish folklore. They have become associated with Saint Patrick's Day because of their close association with Ireland and its folk traditions. They are known for having a pot of gold hidden at the end of the rainbow and were originally said to dress in red. Through their association with Saint Patrick's Day, they have come to be depicted as wearing green.
Modern Saint Patrick's Day celebrations have been more influenced by Irish living outside of Ireland than within it. Celebratory parades, for example, actually began in North America, and "going green" for Saint Patrick's Day was officially begun with the Sydney Opera House in Australia and the Sky Tower in New Zealand putting on green light displays for the day.
Irish music and wearing green are, of course, integral parts of Saint Patrick's Day celebrations. Many Christians attend church during the day as well. Because Saint Patrick's Day falls during Lent, a Christian period of fasting, the dietary and alcohol restrictions were lifted for the day to allow people to partake in the feast. A tradition of "drowning the shamrock" or "wetting the shamrock" also became popular on this day. People put a shamrock into a cup and fill it with their drink of choice (whiskey, cider, beer, etc.), then drink it in a toast to Saint Patrick and either swallow it or toss it over their shoulder for luck.
Saint Patrick's Day celebrations have recently come under some criticism for over emphasizing alcohol consumption, adding to negative stereotypes about Irish people, and for moving too far away from the original purpose of honouring Saint Patrick.