Every year on March 17, everyone is Irish as the world celebrates St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish have observed this day for over 1,000 years as a religious holiday, not the secular party it has become. Irish families would attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. The Lenten prohibitions on eating meat were waived on this day, and observers could eat Irish bacon and corned beef. Until the 1970s, Irish laws stated that pubs could not operate on this day, and in 1995 the government began a campaign to drive tourism around the global interest in the holiday.
Who Was St. Patrick?
St. Patrick lived during the fifth century and is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland. He was born in Roman Britain, kidnapped at age 16, and brought to Ireland as a slave. He eventually escaped to Britain but eventually returned to Ireland, bringing with him Christianity and driving out all the snakes in the land. Legends say that he taught the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to the Irish using the three leaves of the native Irish clover, the shamrock. Sources disagree on whether Patrick really banished snakes, as snakes had been absent from Ireland for thousands of years before St. Patrick arrived, but the snake is a pagan symbol, and the underlying theme of the legend is he diminished pagan dominance on the island by facilitating the spread of Christianity.
Evolution of the Celebration
Since the 10th century, Irish people have observed the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick, but the first parade was held in New York City in 1762. Irish soldiers fighting for the English in the Revolutionary War marched through the city on March 17. The parade helped them all connect with their heritage and roots. Over the next decades, Irish patriotism among American immigrants grew, giving rise to the Irish Aid societies. Each group would hold their own annual parade, complete with drums and bagpipes. They soon decided to combine their parades into what is now the largest parade in the world, with over 150,000 participants and two million spectators in NYC.
When the potato famine hit Ireland in 1845, close to a million poor and starving Irish fled Ireland and flooded America, looking to start over. They met discrimination because of their Catholic religion and strange accent. The parades helped them realize their numbers gave them political power, and the green machine voting bloc had sway. Suddenly the St. Patrick’s Day parades became a show of strength for the Irish as they became an important swing vote for politicians.
St. Patrick’s Day Now
As the Irish spread out in America, they took their traditions with them, and St. Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations popped up all over the country. More reason to drink green beer, eat corned beef, wear everything green, and party all day long as millions of people celebrate the holiday. As the saying goes, “Everyone is Irish on St. Paddy’s day.”