All About St. Patrick’s Day

By Niamh Sammon and Sarah Shuford

St Patrick, known as the patron Saint of the Emerald Isle, was born in Britain in 387AD. He was captured and brought to Ireland by Irish pirates at the age of sixteen and worked as a shepherd until the age of about twenty two, when he experienced a “spiritual awakening.” He was told by God to go home to Britain, where he began sharing his journey of faith with those he encountered along the way. The Lord then told him to go back to Ireland, where he began a period of deep religious study and ministering the word of God to the Irish natives. While in Ireland he experienced persecution for his beliefs, which never stopped him in doing the work God told him to. St Patrick is responsible for opening 300 new Churches and performing 100,000 baptisms in many “Holy Wells,” which are now named after him. It is also thought that he converted numerous warrior chiefs, princes and princesses who ruled the provinces of Ireland for centuries. A commonly known story known among all Irish people, and one which is taught to Irish children from a young age, is that St Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland. While this has never been proven, it is thought this could have a deeper symbolic meaning with regards to his mission in driving paganism from Irish shores and filling the country with the light of Christianity. It should be noted that there are no snakes in Ireland. St Patrick is believed to have died on the 17th of March and is buried in Downpatrick, County Down in Ireland, having devoted most of his life to God and to the Irish people.

St Patrick’s Day in the US

Although St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Ireland, Americans celebrate the green holiday with parades, parties, and even dying fountains green in major cities. Known for being a religious celebration, Americans use the holiday as a way to celebrate the Irish Culture. St Patrick’s Day in America has been celebrated since the late 18th century. As of 2017, there are 32 cities in the United States that have major St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Chicago is one of those cities. A popular tradition that goes on during the celebration is dying the Chicago River green with a secret dye that lasts up to 6-12 hours. Along with other cities, the north White House fountain has been dyed green since 2009. Another tradition is the South Side Irish parade. Although this can be another tradition for Chicagoans, this is mainly for people of Irish descent. The parade features Irish dancers and also various organizations and businesses.

Baseball is the biggest American sport to take a vested interest in the holiday. While most Major League teams are in the middle of their preseason spring training, some teams celebrate by wearing different themed uniforms. The Los Angeles Dodgers wear green jerseys because of their history with the Irish American community. Other teams that wear green themed jerseys are the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies.  As of 2007, most Major League Baseball teams now sell St. Patrick’s Day themed merchandise.


Typical St Patrick’s Day in Ireland

Nothing evokes a greater sense of national pride than for an Irish person to celebrate St Paddy’s Day, or “Lá Fhéile Pádraig.” Getting decked out all in green and wear shamrocks next to the heart is second nature to many Irish people and a beloved part of Irish culture. In comparison to the festivities here in the States, St Patrick’s Day in Ireland is first and foremost a holy day of obligation, celebrating the life of Ireland’s patron saint St Patrick. As a predominantly and historically Catholic, country this means that most families may attend morning mass with shamrocks to be blessed by a priest, offering prayers for Irish missionaries and also for the thousands of Irish people throughout the world. While the symbol of the shamrock is synonymous with Irish culture, it can also have a wider meaning for Christians worldwide. St Patrick used it to explain the Holy Trinity to pagans in the process of converting them to Christianity; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Shamrocks are generally worn on the lapel of jackets all day, with some people practicing “drowning the shamrock” by putting it in their last drink of the evening. Hundreds of devoted Irish Christians also make the trek up one of Ireland’s highest mountains, Croagh (pronounced “croke”, meaning “Patrick’s Stack”) Patrick, as an act of pilgrimage to celebrate Mass at the summit. This is famously done completely barefoot, an act of true devotion; the climb towards the top can be quite treacherous and rock-strewn. Additionally, one of the most senior members of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Derry man Archbishop Eamon Martin, holds what is known as the “Seat of St Patrick in Ireland.”

St Patrick’s Day is also one of the biggest cultural holidays in Ireland. People take the opportunity to attend some of the many parades and festivals held throughout the country, taking any opportunity to have a bit of “craic” (fun). Festivals usually last for a whole week, and are ultimately a celebration of traditional Irish food, live music and dance. Children can make crafts and dress up, while adults engage in celebrations in pubs later in the day, and long, long into the night. Most people engage in drinking socially, especially as sports events such as rugby and Gaelic football are usually scheduled on the same day.

St Patrick’s Day has become a mixture of religious and secular activities in Ireland, keeping with the advances of society. However, it will never truly lose its roots with the beloved Irish patron Saint Patrick. One of the reasons offered as to why St Patrick’s Day is such a global day of celebration, regardless of personal faith, is because of the vast numbers of Irish immigrants who have left Ireland’s shores throughout the years. They have brought with them the sense of green Irish pride and tradition that is celebrated on the 17th of March every year.

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