So we have another holiday to flesh out. Now this isn’t a U.S. holiday but I decided to do a piece on it because its celebrated all over the world. In a lot of places, it’s an excuse to drink, in others it’s a welcoming to spring, in others it’s a celebration of a man’s life.
Who was “St Patrick”?
St Patrick lived during the fifth century. He is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. Now this happened in the 400’s, let’s be very clear here we do not have very good records from the dark ages, particularly in western Europe as much of it was still under the control of Rome. So we can’t be certain of everything that happened around this individual. In the centuries following his death (believed to have been on March 17, 461), the mythology around his life became ever more ingrained in Irish culture. The most well-known legend of St. Patrick is that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock. Now you know why they are lucky.
Why did it become an international holiday?
So to be clear, I understand many people in the world do not recognize St Patrick’s day at all. That said hundreds of millions (Billions?) do an we have to wonder why? In the mid-19th century there were great movements of people. The migration to the U.S. is well documented but remember at the time the British Empire was vast, from the UK to India to Australia. The Irish moved everywhere and then in 1845 we had the great potato famine. This drove starving Irish to immigrate all over the world but a huge chunk of them moved to the U.S.
They brought with them all of their traditions and pride and, in the U.S. at least melded into the country and brought us St Patrick’s day and the parades. At the time this was viewed as a threat to many. Violence happened as the Irish were not native born Americans and only a few generations removed from our revolution, the influx of immigrants was jolting to the U.S. The Irish, understanding their new found political power via numbers carried on and even today there are huge populations of U.S. citizens with Irish heritage concentrated in many major U.S. cities.
So the Irish have been celebrating his birthday for centuries. We celebrate now with parades all over the world. Again this has evolved into more of a community celebration then the actual celebration of a saint or a culture. Most wear green because of the Irish connection but beyond that it’s just another reason to get together with friends and welcome the incoming spring. At its heart this is a religious holiday, celebrating the life of one of the more important saints in Christianity. So if you are going to a parade this weekend, wear your green, drink responsibly, be merry and give a nod to St Patrick, the man who brought Christianity to Ireland.
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