St. Patrick’s Day is this Thursday, March 17. Millions of people will dress up in green and celebrate with parades, good cheer, and perhaps a glass of beer the biggest Irish holiday. However, the modern celebration of St. Patrick’s Day really has almost nothing to do with the real man who originated this tradition. So who was the man behind the St. Patrick’s Day?
To begin with, the real St. Patrick was not originally Irish. He was born in England around 390 in an aristocratic Christian family with a house in the city, a country house and plenty of slaves. Contradictorily, Patrick did not professed any interest in Christianity as a young boy.
At 16, Patrick’s world crumbled: he was kidnapped and sent abroad to take care of the sheep as a slave in the cold mountainous landscape of Ireland for over seven years. And it was during this period that he had a religious conversion and became a deeply devouted Christian.
According to folklore, a voice came to Patrick in his dreams telling him to run away. And the next day he found a passage to a pirate ship back to Britain, where he met up with his family. A few years later the same voice told him to return to Ireland. This time the voice ordered to then Father Patrick to returne to Ireland and spend the rest of his life trying to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity.
Patrick’s work in Ireland was difficult, he was constantly attacked by bandits, harassed by the Irish royalty, and warned by his British superiors. After his death, on March 17th, 461, Patrick was largely forgotten. But slowly, the myths grew around Patrick and few centuries later, he was honored as the patron saint of Ireland.
According to one legend, Patrick used the three leaves of a shamrock to explain the Christian holy Trinity to pagans. Today the clover is one of the greatest symbols of both St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland. But many argue that even with the clover on their side, the country has had little luck.
Another myth of St. Patrick is the claim that he drove the snakes out of Ireland. The truth is that nowadays there are really no snakes on the island, but science confirms that they never existed there. Ireland, after all, is surrounded by very cold ocean waters to allow snakes to migrate from Britain or anywhere else. And taking into account that since long ago the snakes represented evil in literature, so when St. Patrick supposedly drove the snakes out of Ireland, is symbolically saying he took away the old and harmful pagan customs of Ireland and brought a new era.
Now returning to the party, until late 70s St. Patrick’s Day was a small religious holiday in Ireland. A priest would acknowledge the holiday and families would celebrate it with a great meal, but it would end there.
Some say that St. Patrick’s Day was basically invented in USA by Irish immigrants. The experts say that the story is that Irish charitable organizations originally celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with banquets in places like Boston, Massachusetts, Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston South Carolina. And when Irish soldiers fought among the British during Revolutionary War they made the first parades on St. Patrick’s Day. Some soldiers, for example, marched through New York City in 1762 to reconnect with their Irish roots. Other festivities followed few years later, including celebrations in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago. This holiday has become not only a way to honor the saint, but also an ethnic identity confirmation and creating bonds of solidarity.
Somewhere in the 19th century, as the celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day were flourishing, the green color has become a demonstration of commitment to Ireland, the emerald island. Then in 1962, this show of solidarity took a spectacular turn in Chicago when the city decided to dye a part of the Chicago River green. The tradition began after the parade organizer, Steve Bailey, who was head of the union of plumbers, had stained the uniform of a colleague with the dye used to trace possible sources of pollution in the river that was a brilliant green. Some say the idea came from there. They are still doing it every year as the environmental impact of the dye is minimal compared to the pollution and the view is really stunning.
But now talking about the most important part of St. Patrick’s Day which is nothing less than beer. And not just any beer, but specifically Guiness. The average world consumption in one day is 5.5 million pints, but on St. Patrick’s Day, that number rises to more than double, to the phenomenal 13 million liters!
Guiness, like many other traditions that have been relocated to the US by Irish people, added popularity to St. Patrick’s Day and the important outcome is that it was an amazingly good way to increase tourism during the spring time.
Keep on Eco.