St. Patrick’s Day is one of the most recognizable holidays in the United States and throughout other parts of the world as well.
While St. Patrick’s Day is a far bigger deal in cities that feature a large number of Irish descendants, such as Boston, New York City, and St. Louis, lots of people use this holiday as an excuse to wear green clothing, drink beer, and eat corned beef and cabbage.
But, why exactly do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Who is St. Patrick? There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the history of this holiday, and a lot of people have no idea why it is celebrated in the first place.
If you’re one of those people, then you’re in the right place!
The Man, the Myth, the Legend
St. Patrick’s Day was originally created to celebrate the life and death of St. Patrick. Shocking, right? However, today, St. Patrick’s Day is viewed as a celebration of Irish culture as a whole, rather than a memorialization of one man.
But, who was St. Patty anyway? St. Patrick was the famous patron saint of Ireland who was born in the late 4th century. Yeah, that was a pretty long time ago. It’s no wonder that people don’t remember much about what this guy did.
Here’s where the misconceptions start, though. St. Patrick was actually born in Roman Britain, not Ireland. At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery to a Celtic priest in Northern Ireland.
After laboring as a shepherd for around six years, he managed to escape back to Britain. However, in the year 432, St. Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary intent on converting the Irish people over to Christianity.
St. Patrick died on March 17th, 461. Hence, the reason why we celebrate it on this particular date. Over the nearly thirty years he spent as the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick established a number of churches, schools, and monasteries.
One of the most famous legends about the patron saint Patrick recalls the time that he stood atop a hillside and banished all the snakes out of Ireland.
Now, there is no explanation given as to why there was a massive congregation of snakes trying to slither into Ireland, but the point is that it happened.
Okay, actually, it really didn’t happen, but that doesn’t stop it from being super cool.
There is a plethora of evidence that there were in fact no snakes on the emerald isle. Zero signs of snakes have been found in Ireland’s fossil records and, seeing as how the country is surrounded by water, the snakes would have had to, um, fly in order to get there.
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Leprechauns, Shamrocks, and Corned Beef
So, that’s great and all, but where do all the unique traditions come from? The green beer, the four-leaf clovers, the leprechauns, all that stuff.
Well, to clear up another misconception, all of these traditions, as well as the widespread celebration of the holiday, began in the United States, not Ireland.
In Ireland, the death of St. Patrick was celebrated with feasts, prayers, and religious services. It was Irish-Americans, particularly those who wielded some level of political power, who transformed the religious event into a largely secular celebration of Irish culture.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Florida on March 17th, 1601. The first parade in Boston was held in 1737. St. Patrick’s Day parades have become an annual, extremely popular event in several cities across the country like Chicago, New York City, and St. Louis.
Shamrocks, or three-leaf clovers, have been associated with Ireland for a very long time. In fact, shamrocks used to be considered a sacred plant that symbolized the coming of spring.
St. Patrick actually used the three leaves as a way of describing the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is likely the reason why it is so synonymous with the holiday.
Actually, believe it or not, blue was the color that was traditionally associated with St. Patrick. Kind of crazy when you consider how prominently the color green represents the holiday. Green beer, green clothing, green rivers, and all that.
This transition was likely made because of the bright green plant’s importance to the holiday and Irish culture.
While this isn’t exactly confirmed, it is highly likely that the green-clad, orange-bearded little fellows that crop up during St. Patrick’s Day are based on Celtic fairies.
The Celtic’s believed in fairies, tiny men and women who used their magical powers for good, and sometimes evil too. This belief in fairies is likely what led to the belief in leprechauns as well.
In traditional Celtic folklore, leprechauns are believed to be mischievous and somewhat cranky, and they are in charge of tending to the shoes of other fairies. We’d probably be cranky too!
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Corned Beef and Cabbage
So, what’s up with this tradition? Is it because cabbage is green? Well, maybe, but this is yet another tradition that was begun in America. While the Irish did eat ham and cabbage back in the day, the corned beef thing was actually started out of necessity.
You see, you may have heard of this thing called the Irish Potato Famine. This unfortunate event killed more than one million Irish people and forced around two million to immigrate to the Americas.
As a result, many Irish immigrants in the United States lived in poverty, and, sadly, they were generally disliked and not treated very well by Americans. Because of the poverty they lived in, Irish immigrants began to use corned beef, which was a cheaper alternative to ham.
Corned beef and cabbage is a meal that is still eaten today, especially on March 17th, and is seen as a staple Irish cuisine.
St. Patrick’s Day in St. Louis
St. Patrick’s Day is synonymous with Dogtown, a section of St. Louis, Missouri, that is steeped in Irish heritage. Seeing as how Dogtown Pizza was founded in this area, St. Patrick’s Day is very important to us.
Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full force, the St. Patrick’s Day parade is being held virtually this year. While a virtual parade won’t be nearly as awesome as the real thing, it should still be a fun time.
If you don’t feel like making corned beef and cabbage for dinner, don’t feel bad about breaking into your stockpile of Dogtown Pizza for dinner. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate!