St. Patrick's Day 2012: History, Facts, Myths
St. Patrick's Day is March 17, and is a cultural and religious holiday to celebrate the life of St. Patrick, a patron saint of Ireland.
St. Patrick's Day is the most widely celebrated saints day in the world, celebrating from Great Britain, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand, among others. In Easteron Orthodox and Lutheran churches, St. Patrick's Day is characterized by the attendance of church services, wearing green attire and the lifting of Lenten restrictions of drinking alcohol.
Who was St. Patrick?
Little is known of Patrick's early life, though it is known that he was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father and grandfather were deacons in the Christian church. At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken captive to Ireland as a slave. It is believed he was held somewhere on the west coast of Ireland, possibly Mayo, but the exact location is unknown. According to his Confession, he was told by God in a dream to flee from captivity to the coast, where he would board a ship and return to Britain. Upon returning, he quickly joined the Church in Auxerre in Gaul and studied to be a priest. In 432, he again said that he was called back to Ireland, though as a bishop, to Christianise the Irish from their native polytheism Irish folklore tells that one of his teaching methods included using the shamrock to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to the Irish people. After nearly thirty years of evangelism, he died on 17 March 461, and according to tradition, was buried at Downpatrick. Although there were other more successful missions to Ireland from Rome, Patrick endured as the principal champion of Irish Christianity and is held in esteem in the Irish church.
Why Are You Supposed Wear Green on St. Patrick's Day?
Originally, the colour associated with Saint Patrick was blue. Over the years the colour green and its association with Saint Patrick's day grew. Green ribbons and shamrocks (or clovers) were worn in celebration of St Patrick's Day as early as the 17th century, because Saint Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and the wearing and display of shamrocks and shamrock-inspired designs have become a ubiquitous feature of the day. In the 1798 rebellion, to make a political statement, Irish soldiers wore full green uniforms on March 17th in hopes of catching public attention. The phrase "the wearing of the green", meaning to wear a shamrock on one's clothing, derives from a song of the same name.
St, Patrick's Day Myths
St. Patrick is not from Ireland. He was born in Britian. However, he was dubbed a patron Saint by Ireland, and that's why Ireland can claim him as their own. He did, after all, do their religious dirty work.
A famous St. Patrick myth is the claim that he banished snakes from Ireland. It's true no snakes exist on the island today, Freeman said—but they never did.
Ireland, after all, is surrounded by icy ocean waters—much too cold to allow snakes to migrate from Britain or anywhere else.
Since snakes often represent evil in literature, "when Patrick drives the snakes out of Ireland, it is symbolically saying he drove the old, evil, pagan ways out of Ireland [and] brought in a new age," Freeman said.
Another myth is that the shamrock has four leaves instead of three. This is a common misconception; Canadian and American St. Patrick's Day merchandise are sold with four leaves, as they are traditionally found "lucky" due to their rarity. St. Patrick specifically used the three-leaved shamrock to explain to non-Christians the idea of the Holy Trinity.
You know that phrase "The Luck of the Irish"? That's about as correct as "Microsoft Works". What sort of luck is it that brings about 1,000 years of invasion, colonization, exploitation, starvation and mass emigration? In truth, this term has a happier, if not altogether positive, American origin. During the gold and silver rush years in the second half of the 19th century, a number of the most famous and successful miners were of Irish and Irish American birth. For example, James Fair, James Flood, William O'Brien and John Mackay were collectively known as the"Silver Kings" after they hit the famed Comstock Lode. Over time this association of the Irish with mining fortunes led to the expression"luck of the Irish." Of course, it carried with it a certain tone of derision, as if to say, only by sheer luck, as opposed to brains, could these fools succeed.
For those of you who thought Leprechauns were cute little elves, drop the thought of Lucky Charms. Drop it like a hot potato. There is nothing "cute" about nearly any Irish or Celtic "fairytales". That jolly little imp, and his counterparts on greeting cards, pub signs, and your Aunt Margaret’s stationery, bears almost no resemblance to the leprechauns of Irish mythology. To borrow a phrase from a long-dead philosopher writing about something entirely different, they were"nasty, brutish, and short." Leprechauns were grumpy, alcoholic, insufferable elves in the employ of Irish fairies, who by the way, ate children. They made shoes for fairies (hence their depiction as cobblers) and guarded their treasure which to the leprechauns’ eternal frustration was revealed occasionally to mortals by a rainbow. Somewhere in the course of the Irish American experience, the leprechaun took on the characteristics of the loveable, but ultimately contemptible, stage Irishman.
St. Patrick's Day Festivities and Celebrations
The first Saint Patrick's Festival was held on 17 March 1996. In 1997, it became a three-day event, and by 2000 it was a four-day event. By 2006, the festival was five days long; more than 675,000 people attended the 2009 parade. Overall 2009's five day festival saw close to 1 million visitors, who took part in festivities that included concerts, outdoor theatre performances, and fireworks.
Until the 1970s, St. Patrick's Day in Ireland was a minor religious holiday. A priest would acknowledge the feast day, and families would celebrate with a big meal, but that was about it.
"St. Patrick's Day was basically invented in America by Irish-Americans," Freeman said.
Irish-American history expert Timothy Meagher said Irish charitable organizations originally celebrated St. Patrick's Day with banquets in places such as Boston, Massachusetts; Savannah, Georgia; and Charleston, South Carolina.
Pint of Guinness on St. Patrick's Day
On any given day 5.5 million pints of Guinness, the famous Irish stout brand, are consumed around the world.
But on St. Patrick's Day, that number more than doubles to 13 million pints, said Beth Davies Ryan, global corporate-relations director of Guinness.
"Historically speaking, a lot of Irish immigrants came to the United States and brought with them lots of customs and traditions, one of them being Guinness," she said.
Today, the U.S. tradition of St. Patrick's Day parades, packed pubs, and green silliness has invaded Ireland with full force, said Freeman, the classics professor.
Oh, and for a little fun: the word "O" in Gaelic means "grandson", so the surnames between O'Mahoney and Mahoney may be relative.