Patch Staff Report
Monday, March 17, 2014, is St. Patrick's Day and it is expected to be widely celebrated, as it always is, in the U.S.It's not hard to understand why: About 36.5 million U.S. residents claim Irish ancestry, more than eight times the actual population of Ireland. And since America is such a melting pot, we celebrate many traditions from other countries, be it Mardi Gras, Cinco De Mayo or — as many will do Monday — St. Patrick's Day.
Most people associate St. Patrick’s Day with wearing green (which is historically correct) and going out to the local watering hole for Irish beer and whiskey (not so much). There’s also the parades, Irish folk songs (or Flogging Molly, if you’re from my generation), and the common phrase, “Everybody’s Irish today!”
Take any holiday's roots, particularly the ones that began with religious connotation, and see the way they’re celebrated today, and there’s bound to be so many twists and turns on the way to modern culture that it would make your head spin.
So, without further ado, here are five things you probably didn’t know about St. Patrick’s Day!
1. St. Patrick did not literally drive snakes from Ireland. Plenty of people cite this folktale as the reason we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (for the record, March 17 is the day of his death, but never mind that). There are no snakes in Ireland, and probably never have been. Snakes are symbolic of pagan religions, and St. Patrick is credited with spreading Christianity to the last pagan societies of Ireland, the Druids of Tara. So, he did drive the snakes away… metaphorically.
2. St. Patrick is the reason the shamrock is the flower of Ireland. Originally, blue was the color associated with St. Patrick. In the 17th century, people began wearing shamrocks and green ribbons in honor of the bishop. St. Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, with its three leaves, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan religions. The term “wearing of the green” originally referred to pinning a shamrock on your clothes, although today wearing any green at all on this day is acceptable.
3. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated internationally. The feast of St. Patrick began in Ireland in the ninth century (St. Patrick died in the year 461), and since then, plenty of other countries have joined in on the tradition. Canada, the United States, Argentina, England, Japan and New Zealand all wear green on March 17. South Korea just got in on the action as recently as 2001. Who knew there was an Irish Association of South Korea?
4. The United States held the first St. Patrick’s Day parade. Even though Ireland has been celebrating the feast of St. Patrick since the ninth century, the first recorded parade in the world to celebrate the Catholic saint was in Boston in 1737, decades before we were even an independent country. Ireland did not have a parade in St. Patrick’s honor until 1931, in Dublin. Even today, 18 out of the 20 largest St. Patrick’s Day parades are in the U.S.A. (London and Dublin round out that list, with New York City at numero uno).
5. St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal. Of course there are parades, parties, bars and sporting events held on St. Patrick’s Day. Many businesses close and tons of people celebrate. Houses are adorned with leprechauns and shamrocks and everyone wears green. But that’s not all!
In Argentina, they strive to drink (literally) all night long on St. Patrick’s Day, until 7 or 8 a.m. Japan celebrates with St. Patrick-related events all through March. In the United States, it is the second-biggest drinking day of the year (after New Year’s Eve).
March was declared Irish-American Heritage Month in the United States in 1991 due to the date of St. Patrick’s Day. The White House fountain, the Chicago River, Savannah’s downtown fountains, and the Chadakoin River in New York are all dyed green every year. And, in some parts of the northeast, peas are planted on St. Patrick’s Day as a tradition.
Postscript: And there is a small addendum that needs to be mentioned here… abbreviating St. Patrick as “St. Patty” is considered demeaning to the Irish, since Patty is the diminutive form of “Patricia.” The correct term is St. Paddy’s Day, as “Paddy” is the short form of Patrick.
Go forth and spread the word, and have a happy St. Paddy’s Day!