Although the Census Bureau reports only nine places in the United States named “Dublin” and four named “Shamrock,” St. Patrick's Day is celebrated in small and large cities from coast to coast. Some people see the day as a religious holiday while others spend the day celebrating their Irish ancestry. But everyone who recognizes the day sees it as a celebration of Irish culture and tradition.
The man who eventually became St. Patrick, well known by today’s secular society, began life in Scotland in the year 387. When he was 14, a raiding party from Ireland captured and enslaved him. Ireland was filled with druids and pagans, so Patrick spent the six years preaching about Christianity before he escaped to Britain. Eventually ordained a bishop, he returned to Ireland and spent the next 40 years converting tens of thousands of Irishmen to Catholicism.
Although never formally ordained by the Roman Catholic Church, St. Patrick's name was on the church's original list of saints and the date of his death, March 17, was designated as his feast day. Ireland celebrated the date as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years with their beloved pubs closed for the day and Irish Catholics attending a special mass for the saint. In the mid-1990s, the Irish government exploited the holiday to drive tourism to the country. Although still celebrated as a religious holiday, it has also become a celebration of Irish culture marked by parades and other festivities.
By 1762, many Irish soldiers were serving in the English military and were stationed in the American colonies. On March 17, these soldiers marched through New York City playing traditional Irish music. Although informal, this event was the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in the United States. In addition to honoring the day, the parade helped Irish soldiers to come together and celebrate their heritage. New York started its official annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1766, followed by Boston in 1775 and Savannah, Georgia, in 1824.
When the potato famine hit Ireland in the mid-1800s, there was a surge of Irish immigration to America. In short order, the Irish realized that there was strength in their numbers, and they became a political power known as the "green machine." St. Patrick's Day quickly became a day for Irish-Americans to celebrate their new-found clout and political strength. Whether Irish or not, politicians celebrated the holiday as an important "see and be seen" day for their political careers.
St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland. Counties in Northern Ireland also recognize it as a bank holiday. Although widely recognized in the United States as a holiday designated as a celebration of Irish heritage, it is not official.
In 1955, the U.S. Congress proclaimed March to be Irish-American Heritage Month. This designation allowed many schools across the country to celebrate the month with plays, fairs, music and educational projects designed to teach all students about Ireland, its history and its culture.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by people of Irish and non-Irish ancestry. Although it is intended to be a day to celebrate Irish heritage and St. Patrick’s contributions to Ireland, many people take advantage of the celebration to cut loose, party and have fun.
Towns all over the country hold parades, complete with bagpipers and Irish step dancers; pubs serve pitchers of green beer or pints of stout; and restaurants serve traditional Irish dishes. Green is the color of the day, and images of shamrocks adorn everything from T-shirts to posters.
Many Irish families also use the day to celebrate the culinary traditions of Ireland, including corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, scones, Irish stew and shepherd's pie.
Fact or Fiction
Americans serve up loads of corned beef in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Although once the biggest export of Cork City in Ireland, the dish is anything but Irish. Corned beef and cabbage is the dish that Americans use to mimic the "bacon and cabbage" served in Ireland.
The abundance of alcoholic beverages served on St. Patrick's Day is no accident. Whether truth or fiction, legend has it that St. Patrick, upon being served a short glass of whiskey by an innkeeper, declared that everyone should have some of the "hard stuff" on his feast day.
- Photo Credit shamrock image by Olga Khoroshunova from Fotolia.com
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