Why is St. Patrick’s Day such a huge celebration? Why do we even bother celebrating it at all? It isn’t a national holiday, the U.S. doesn’t have enough of a Catholic population to make the religious aspect of the day that important, so why do we look forward to St. Patrick’s Day once March starts? Simple: it’s about celebrating our roots.
According to Catholic Online, St. Patrick was born in Scotland around 385 to Roman citizens. As a teenager he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave. He remained there until he was around twenty years old. During his time in pagan Ireland, St. Patrick’s Christian faith grew stronger. After receiving a message from God in a dream telling him to leave Ireland, St. Patrick made his way back to Britain and his family.
After joining the priesthood, St. Patrick eventually rose to the level of bishop and was given the task of spreading Christianity throughout Ireland. He arrived in Slane, Ireland on March 25, 433. St. Patrick quickly began converting the Irish and setting up churches all across the nation over the next 40 years. He is said to have died on March 17, 461. He was eventually canonized as the patron saint of Ireland.
For those who don’t know, being the patron saint of a country makes that saint the guardian of the nation. That saint is the first person people pray to in times of trouble. Ireland has several patron saints, but St. Patrick is by far the most well-known. So how does Ireland celebrate their most famous protector?
St. Patrick’s Day was once a solemn time throughout all of Ireland, although that is beginning to change. History.com states that it wasn’t until the 1970s that pubs even stayed open on the holiday. The website Ireland for Visitors explains that Irish tradition is to go to mass to celebrate St. Patrick, perhaps stop and get a pint or two, and then sit down for a special family meal. Rather than the corned beef and cabbage that Americans demand every March 17, the Irish serve “succulent, pink bacon or a savory roast chicken.”
Since the mid-1990s Ireland has started to have larger St. Patrick’s Day celebrations like those of their American cousins. Many large cities now have parades as well as cultural performances and activities during the week of St. Patrick’s Day.
While St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland has typically been treated like any other saint’s feast day, it has always been a different story across the pond. March 17 quickly became a day to celebrate Irish culture in the United States. In her International Business Times article “St. Patrick’s Day Parade 2014: Top 10 Largest Parades; Schedules And Route Maps For New York, Boston, Chicago And More,” Nadine DeNinno states that the current population of Americans with Irish heritage, more the 30 million, is “seven times the population of Ireland itself.”
Those numbers don’t really matter since, as the saying goes, everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. It does explain the popularity of the holiday from America’s beginning though. St. Patrick’s Day parades have existed since Irish settlers first appeared in the 16th century.
While DeNinno does mention that St. Patrick’s Day has earned the title “drunkest holiday” after New Year’s Eve in the States (did you know that St. Patrick brought distillation to Ireland?), it isn’t just an excuse to drink. After generations of Irish immigrants making their mark in American society, St. Patrick’s Day is a day to celebrate the culture that so many Americans call their own.
Not sure how to celebrate the Irish culture this St. Patrick’s Day? Here’s some festive food and drinks to serve this Tuesday.