St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday bursting with Irish stereotypes based on what is believed to be a celebration of all things Irish. But how much of what’s celebrated in America is actually derived from Irish culture?
At any given American St. Patrick’s Day event, you will most certainly find cabbage and corned beef on the menu as an authentic Irish dish. Well, that’s only half right. While cabbage is a staple in Irish cuisine, corned beef is not commonly feasted upon in Ireland. Bacon and cabbage is what’s typically served for St. Patrick’s Day dinner in Ireland. Also, the Irish variant of bacon is very different from strips that are served as a companion to eggs at a typical American breakfast table. American bacon is taken from the pork belly whereas Ireland’s variety of bacon uses the back meat of the pig. Irish bacon resembles a side of ham.
In America, four leaf clovers are a universal symbol of St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish. The reality is that the four leaf clover has absolutely nothing to do with Ireland or St. Patrick. What the clover is frequently mistaken for is the Shamrock which is very relevant to St. Patrick as he used it to explain the Holy Trinity of Christianity to the pagan people of Ireland. Each leaf represented a piece of the trinity. A shamrock has three leaves, not four and it has evolved into a more national symbol of Ireland, not just St. Patrick’s Day.
Modern St. Patrick’s Day is all about indulgence in all things Irish including alcohol. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t always defined by the excess it’s associated with today. In fact, St. Patrick’s Day was more of a religious holiday. Once upon a time, Irish pubs were closed on this holy day and it was illegal for alcohol to be sold on St. Patrick’s Day up until the 1960s. So how did this holiday metamorphosis occur?
St. Patrick’s Day falls right in the middle of lent, the Catholic penance period between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday. Lent is a period of atonement when worldly indulgences like candy, meat and alcohol are forgone. But somewhere along the way, St. Patrick’s Day became a day of papal dispensation where the Catholic church gave good Catholics a free pass on March 17th to “break lent”. Perhaps this brief dispensation granted by the canonical powers that be is what resulted in all the excess indulgences that exist in modern St. Patrick’s Day?
In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is recognized as a national bank holiday and many Catholics still kick the day off with a visit to church before hitting the pubs and celebrating. In America, St. Patrick’s Day isn’t a national holiday but people do take their St. Patrick’s Day seriously and it’s not uncommon for small communities to cultivate the St. Patrick’s Day season with parades and festivals. It’s not unusual to hear a jovial American bursting with ye old Irish spirit acknowledge the occasion with a “Happy St. Patty’s Day!”. Word of warning, you won’t want to greet a native Irish person with this salutation and if you do prepare to be scathed with the heat of a thousand suns. Patty is a derivative of the female name Patricia. It’s also what people call hamburgers. Paddy is actually a common Irish name. If you must abbreviate St. Patrick’s day, try St. Paddy’s day. Irish people are okay with that.
This St. Patrick’s Day demonstrate your Irish spirit by acknowledging all things that are truly Irish—the shamrock, St Paddy, Irish bacon, cabbage and Guinness… lots of Guinness… and make it green!
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