On 17 March people in Ireland and people of Irish heritage will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador (for provincial government employees), and the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat. Saint Patrick’s Day or Feast of Saint Patrick commemorates Saint Patrick, the foremost patron saint of Ireland, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general.
Patrick was a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. According to the Declaration, which was allegedly written by Patrick himself, at the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic 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. According to tradition, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. Tradition holds that he died on 17 March and was buried at Downpatrick. Over the following centuries, many legends grew up around Patrick and he became Ireland’s foremost saint.
St. Patrick’s Day celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, Irish traditional music sessions (céilithe), and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. The parade participants generally include marching bands, the military, fire brigades, cultural organisations, charitable organisations, voluntary associations, youth groups, fraternities, and so on. More effort is made to use the Irish language, especially in Ireland, where the week of St Patrick’s Day is “Irish language week”.
Christians may also attend church services, and the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for the day. Perhaps because of this, drinking alcohol – particularly Irish whiskey, beer, or cider – has become an integral part of the celebrations. The St Patrick’s Day custom of “drowning the shamrock” or “wetting the shamrock” was historically popular, especially in Ireland. At the end of the celebrations, a shamrock, which is a young sprig, used as a symbol of Ireland, is put into the bottom of a cup, which is then filled with whiskey, beer, or cider. It is then drunk as a toast to St Patrick, Ireland, or those present. The shamrock would either be swallowed with the drink or taken out and tossed over the shoulder for good luck.
On St Patrick’s Day, it is customary to wear shamrocks, green clothing or green accessories. St Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish.
If you do not celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, you could still share the spirit by learning the rich Irish culture, Irish music or even Irish language. Do not forget to wear green clothing! If you are in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, make sure to watch the parade. Who knows, maybe you could taste the great Irish traditional food such as pink bacon or savory roast chicken, bangers and mash, colcannon, bacon (boiled ham) and cabbage, stew, boxty, Shepherd’s Pie, potato bread and black pudding.
How about you? Tell us your favorite Saint Patrick’s Day activity, or share your most memorable Saint Patrick’s Day celebration!