Last year I wrote about the “Real” story of St. Patrick’s day, which I love! I am a big fan of history and how things change over the years. With St. Patrick’s day this Saturday I thought I would remind everyone about the unusual day of wearing green and drinking beer.
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Did you know that St. Patrick was not Irish…..blue was Patrick’s favorite color, not green…..bacon and cabbage was served in Ireland not corned beef….and bars are closed on St. Patrick’s Day. How did we get the traditions we have today?
ST. PATRICK: St. Patrick was born in Britain to wealthy parents near the end of the fourth century. At the age of sixteen, Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family’s estate. They transported him to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity. During this time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian. After more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick escaped and traveled to Britain. After a fifteen year religious training course he was ordained as a priest and sent to Ireland with a mission to convert Irish to Christianity.
Patrick was very successful at establishing monasteries and converting the Irish country to Christianity, but this upset the Celtic Druids. Patrick was arrested several times, but escaped each time and continued his quest. His mission continued in Ireland for thirty years until he retired, and then died on March 17 in AD 461. For thousands of years, the Irish have observed the day of Saint Patrick’s death as a religious holiday, attending church in the morning and celebrating with food and drink in the afternoon.
St. Patrick’s Day custom came to America in 1737 and was celebrated in Boston. Today people celebrate with parades, wearing green, and drinking beer. St. Patrick’s Day is popular also because it takes place just a few days before the first day of spring. People say it has become the first green of spring.
BEING PINCHED: People wear green to avoid being pinched. It is thought that wearing green made you invisible to leprechaun’s and fairy creatures who would pinch anyone who they could see. People began pinching those who didn’t wear green as a reminder that leprechaun’s would sneak up and pinch them.
GREEN: The color of St. Patrick was not green…..it was blue. In the 19th century green became used as a symbol of Ireland. Ireland’s flag has green, the beautiful green landscape, and because the day is so close to spring, and the color of the shamrock, all contributed to the color changing to green. People wear green to pay tribute to Ireland, bring in good luck, and avoid being pinched.
CORNED BEEF & CABBAGE: Back in the day the Irish had lots of cheap pigs around and bacon and cabbage was the staple dish for most Irish rather than beef. New York bars started offering a “free lunch” to the Irish construction workers who were building NYC (it was the cheapest meat, and cabbage was the cheapest vegetable.) They would offer this “free lunch” with the purchase of a couple beers or shots of whiskey. The corned beef soon became known as the “irish’ food.”
SHAMROCK: Three is Ireland’s magic number for several reasons. The shamrock was used by Patrick to explain the Trinity (How the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements in the same entity.) The shamrock was also the symbol for Past, Present & Future. Followers would wear shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day to represent how Patrick used the shamrock in his teaching as well as the Irish’ luck of the number 3. The three leaves today mostly symbolize Hope, Faith & Love…If you find a fourth leaf on your shamrock it would stand for luck.
LEPRECHAUN: The Leprechaun is an Irish fairy that looks like a 2 foot tall old man who dresses like a shoemaker. According to legend, leprechaun’s are unfriendly, live alone, pass the time making shoes, and possess a hidden pot of gold. Leprechaun’s had nothing to do with St. Patrick or the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, until 1959. Walt Disney released a film called Darby O’Gill & the Little People, which introduced America to a very different sort of leprechaun. This cheerful, friendly leprechaun is a purely American invention, but quickly evolved into an easily recognizable symbol of both St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland.
It is so interesting how traditions get started, changed, and carried out. Don’t forget to wear green, pinch those not wearing green, eat some corned beef and cabbage, and have a green beer.
It’s funny, but we actually talked about several of these things on St. Patrick’s day with our friends. In particular, the blue thing and the fact that he wasn’t really Irish. 🙂