Saint Patrick’s Day, or Lá Fhéile Pádraig, celebrates the life of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, on March 17th. As a youth, Patrick was a Roman slave in Ireland named Magonus Sucatus Patricius. As an adult, he returned to Ireland with fierce devotion. Using the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity, Patrick walked the countryside talking to the Irish pre-Christians. They wove his stories with their own spiritual beliefs, as can still be seen in ancient Celtic knots. Understanding his stories were easy for these people—they already held the belief of a triple goddess.
The Wearing of the Green
St. Patrick’s Blue, not green, was associated with Patrick for centuries. But green has long been the color of the Irish people because of Ireland’s hillsides and meadows. And, in more modern times, “the wearing of the green” meant to wear a shamrock on your clothing. Throughout Irish history, doing so was a sign of Irish nationalism. As the shamrock took hold, the stories of the trinity took root, the wearing of the green and Catholicism grew as one, the color green instead of blue became the color of St. Patrick’s Day. This change dates back to 1750.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated worldwide by people of Irish descent, and also by people who are more than happy to be Irish for a day. Really, who could resist a St. Patrick’s Day celebration? Regardless of your religious beliefs, it’s a great way to welcome spring. Irish food, green food and beverages, tossing back a drink or four of Jameson Irish Whiskey, Old Bushmills, Bailey’s Irish Cream, or Guinness is enough to make anyone happy. And the parades… Everyone who is able to join a parade has the time of their life, dancing, acting silly, and singing out with the pure joy of life.
Where to Join a St. Patrick’s Parade
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston, 1761, not Dublin as one may expect. What about the second parade? Still not Dublin! It was in New York City, March 18, 1762, when Irish soldiers in the English military marched through the city—a mark of their independence from the English and a tip of their hats to Americans—many of whom were their relatives. Today New York hosts the largest parade, attracting about two million people. Montreal’s parade is the longest running, without interruption, having started in 1824. Montreal’s flag even bears a shamrock in one of its corners.
St. Patrick’s Day Parades in Ireland
Ireland’s cities each have their own parades, festivities, and traditions. The largest are in Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Derry, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick and Waterford, although the smaller towns and villages also celebrate with home-grown festivals. Dublin has a five-day St. Patrick’s festival with over 500,000 attendees. (2007 was the first annual St. Patrick’s Day parade and festival held in Glasgow, Scotland. We await the first parade held in front of Buckingham Palace!)
St. Patrick, Revisited
It wasn’t his intention to bequeath one of the best excuses for a festival to the entire world. But, Catholic or not, one has to admire Patrick’s stamina. He died at the age of 76, on March 17th, having walked the island of Ireland in its entirety. From his writings we know that he truly loved the land and her people. His life, and the land of Ireland, is worth a few good drinks with friends and a terrific celebration, the kind that Irish so unabashedly love.
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