On Sunday the 17th March people all over the world will be taking part in special events to mark St Patrick’s Day. St Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland, but feast day is celebrated around the world, especially in countries where people have strong Irish roots. The day might have started off as a solemn religious festival, but today it is a purely secular celebration of all things Irish.
The wearing of the green
Ireland is sometimes known as the emerald isle because of its lush green scenery and it has long been associated with the color green. It is considered lucky to wear something green on St Patrick’s Day. But today that doesn’t only apply to clothing.
All over the world famous landmarks will be “wearing” green, from the Chicago River which is temporarily dyed to iconic buildings lit up in green. In previous years these have included the London Eye in the UK and The Empire state building as well as many others across the globe.
The shamrock is a small green three-leaved plant. It is said that St Patrick used it to explain to the Irish people the meaning of the Holy Trinity. It is now the national plant. Originally a real shamrock would be pinned to your jacket or hat to bring good luck. At the end of the day it would be drowned in a glass of Irish whiskey.
Because of the strong links between Ireland and the USA, every year the Taoiseach, the Irish president presents the president of the USA with a shamrock at a special ceremony. Unfortunately, the president never gets to keep his lucky shamrock.
As soon as the ceremony is over the shamrock is taken away to be destroyed. For security reasons the president cannot keep any gifts of food or plants.
St Patrick’s Day parades seem to get bigger every year. Although the parades have been going in Dublin since the early 20th Century, the American parades actually go back much further and are now a very big event in the USA.
The first St Patrick’s Day Parade took place in New York City in 1762. A local charity had provided a meal for the poor Irish immigrants living in the city to celebrate their patron saint’s day. This was accompanied a parade by British Soldiers serving in the then British Colony. Since then the parade has grown and grown. Today it is a huge event featuring live bands, elaborate costumes and floats decorated with fantastic Irish themes.
Food and Drink
The traditional meal for St Patrick’s Day is corned beef and cabbage. It might seem pretty humble by our standards, but the Irish suffered greatly in the past and in particular during the potato famine which led to starvation and mass emigration to the New World. Eating any kind of meat was probably considered a great treat.
The traditional Irish drink is, of course, Guinness and this plays a big part in the festivities. The association with drinking goes back to Ireland’s traditional Catholic faith. St Patrick’s Day falls during the period of Lent when observant Catholics generally abstained from alcohol. An exception was made for this one day so it is not surprising that people wanted to make the most of it while they could.
Traditional Music and Dance
Ireland has a wonderful tradition of music and dance which they brought with them wherever they settled. Although some of the other St Patrick’s Day celebrations aren’t such big thing in Britain, many pubs will hold a special St Patrick’s Day “session”. These are informal gatherings of musicians where people play traditional music and songs. The music is not rehearsed beforehand and the mix of instruments just depends on who happens to show up on the night. Generally, there will be fiddles, banjos and tin whistles accompanied by the Bodhran or Irish drum. Musicians will not usually be paid but will often receive free drinks to thank them for their music.
So, as St Patrick’s Day approaches, stock up on Guinness, look out that green jacket and get ready to celebrate with Ireland and the world. Even Dogs Like The Idea!