Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! Today we thought we’d share a tidbit of history about how today came to be. Enjoy!
Saint Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick, is a cultural and religious celebration occurring annually on 17 March, the death date of the most commonly-recognized patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick (c. AD 385–461).
Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day in the early seventeenth century and is observed by the Catholic Church, theAnglican Communion (especially the Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church and Lutheran Church. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, as well as celebrating the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, céilithe, and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. Christians also attend church services, and the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for the day, which has encouraged and propagated the holiday’s tradition of alcohol consumption.
Much of what is known about St Patrick comes from the Declaration, which was allegedly written by Patrick himself. It is believed that he was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church. According to the Declaration, at the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave toGaelic Ireland. It says that he spent six years there working as a shepherd and that during this time he “found God”. The Declaration says that God told Patrick to flee to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him home. After making his way home, Patrick went on to become a priest.
On St. Patrick’s Day it is customary to wear shamrocks and/or green clothing or accessories (the “wearing of the green”). St Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. This story first appears in writing in 1726, though it may be older. In pagan Ireland, three was a significant number and the Irish had many triple deities, a fact that aided St Patrick in his evangelization efforts. The wearing of the ‘St Patrick’s Day Cross’, especially in the World War I era, by the Irish, was also a popular custom. These St Patrick’s Day Crosses have a Celtic Christian cross made of paper that is “covered with silk or ribbon of different colors, and a bunch or rosette of green silk in the centre.”
The colour green has been associated with Ireland since at least the 1640s, when the green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation. Green ribbons and shamrocks have been worn on St Patrick’s Day since at least the 1680s. Green was adopted as the color of the Friendly Brothers of St Patrick, an Irish fraternity founded in about 1750. However, when the Order of St. Patrick—an Anglo-Irish chivalric order—was founded in 1783 it adopted blue as its colour. This led to blue being associated with St Patrick. In the 1790s, green became associated with Irish nationalism when it was used by the United Irishmen. This was a republican organisation—led mostly by Protestants but with many Catholic members—who launched a rebellion in 1798 against British rule. The phrase “wearing of the green” comes from a song of the same name, which laments United Irishmen supporters being persecuted for wearing green. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the color green and its association with Saint Patrick’s Day grew.
The Celebration In Ireland
In 1903, Saint Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland. This was thanks to the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903, an act of theUnited Kingdom Parliament introduced by Irish Member of Parliament James O’Mara. O’Mara later introduced the law that required that pubsand bars be closed on 17 March after drinking got out of hand, a provision that was repealed in the 1970s. The first Saint Patrick’s Day parade held in the Irish Free State was held inDublin in 1931 and was reviewed by the then Minister of Defence Desmond Fitzgerald.
In the mid-1990s the government of the Republic of Ireland began a campaign to use Saint Patrick’s Day to showcase Ireland and its culture. The government set up a group called St Patrick’s Festival, with the aims:
- To offer a national festival that ranks amongst all of the greatest celebration in the world
- To create energy and excitement throughout Ireland via innovation, creativity, grassroots involvement, and marketing activity
- To provide the opportunity and motivation for people of Irish descent (and those who sometimes wish they were Irish) to attend and join in the imaginative and expressive celebrations
- To project, internationally, an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal.
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.
The topic of the 2004 Saint Patrick’s Symposium was “Talking Irish”, during which the nature of Irish identity, economic success, and the future were discussed. Since 1996, there has been a greater emphasis on celebrating and projecting a fluid and inclusive notion of “Irishness” rather than an identity based around traditional religious or ethnic allegiance. The week around Saint Patrick’s Day usually involves Irish language speakers using more Irish during Seachtain na Gaeilge (“Irish Language Week”).
Christian leaders in Ireland have expressed concern about the secularisation of St Patrick’s Day. In The Word magazine’s March 2007 issue, Fr.Vincent Twomey wrote, “It is time to reclaim St Patrick’s Day as a church festival.” He questioned the need for “mindless alcohol-fueled revelry” and concluded that “it is time to bring the piety and the fun together.”
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