10 Things About St. Patrick’s Day

I own exactly one shirt that says “Irish Proud” and zero shirts that bear the common “Kiss Me, I’m Irish!” I have a partially Irish heritage from both sides of my family. I can name at least three separate castles in Ireland where my ancestors were born (one of them is now a hotel). I’ve never taken St. Patrick’s Day very seriously. I’m not Catholic (though I certainly respect the solemnity of the day for those who are truly honoring the Saint), my heritage includes a hodge podge of cultures and this is only a piece of it, and I loathe the whole tradition of pinching anyone not wearing green. Don’t kiss me. Don’t pinch me. Do not touch me without my permission. And not just because we’re still in a pandemic.

Still. There are some fun things to know about St. Patrick’s Day and the holiday’s namesake himself. And since I have about a bajillion and one things going on right now, this month you get a short and sweet post.

10 Things You Might Not Know About St. Patrick’s Day:

  1. Saint Patrick wasn’t actually named Patrick. He adopted the moniker of Patrick during his years in the priesthood. It stems from the Latin “Patricius” meaning “father figure”. Scholars believe his given name was likely Maewyn Succat.
  2. Until the late 1960s and early1970s, pubs in Ireland were closed by law on St. Patrick’s Day because it was a religious observance holiday. The laws changed as Ireland began to embrace the opportunity the holiday presented for the tourism industry. However, Belfast (Northern Ireland) didn’t have an official parade until 1998 due to hostilities between Protestants and Catholics.
  3. The color green didn’t become associated with St. Patrick or his namesake feast day until the Irish Rebellion in 1798. Prior, St. Patrick was most closely associated with blue–so much so that there is a hue actually named St. Patrick’s Blue.
  4. The New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade was the oldest continuously running civilian parade in the United States. The first parade was held in 1762 and it continued every year until the current pandemic caused its cancellation. The parade takes nearly 5 hours to complete and includes over 250,000 marchers. No floats are allowed.
  5. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world is thought to be the one held in 1732 in Boston. So why doesn’t it get to have the title of longest running St. Patrick’s parade? Because it’s not just for St. Patrick. Some time after the American Revolution (the sources I checked seemed to disagree on exactly when), the St. Patrick’s Day parade also became the Evacuation Day celebration commemorating the evacuation of British troops from the city. These days it focuses more on St. Patrick than the Evacuation, but the brief interlude and change of focus cost it the title. And now, some historians are pointing to new evidence found of a St. Patrick’s celebration in part of Florida. It seems records have been discovered discussing a St. Patrick’s Day parade arranged by a clergyman serving in the then Spanish occupied St. Augustine in the 1600s.
  6. St. Patrick may be the patron saint of Ireland, but he wasn’t Irish. He was born to Roman parents in what is now England, Wales, or Scotland. Historians are not certain which. He was kidnapped as a teenager and sold into slavery in Ireland. Years later, he escaped in the middle of the night by traveling the peat bogs in total darkness and finding passage on a ship. He claims in his autobiographical Confessio that the reason he knew where to go and which ship to approach was because an angel appeared to him in a dream after he spent many hours praying in the field while working as a shepherd for his master. After his escape, he eventually made it home to his parents, but continued to have religious dreams and visions. Eventually he became a priest and returned to Ireland to minister to the people there. While plenty of historians say his capture and escape are entirely plausible given the circumstances of the day, others point out that the only reason we know any of this is because it’s what Patrick himself wrote. With that in mind, they think it is possible, though not an especially popular theory, that Patrick actually ran away from home to avoid being forced to follow in his father’s footsteps as a tax-collector.
  7. The legend that states St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland during a public sermon didn’t begin to circulate until some time after his death. There were never any snakes in Ireland. However, it is believed that the legend is metaphorical with snakes representing a form of evil in general.
  8. The reason shamrocks are so closely associated with St. Patrick’s Day is the Saint was regularly known to use the the three-leafed plant (as opposed to the four-leaf clover) to help explain the Holy Trinity to new believers.
  9. St. Patrick’s Feast Day, which was added to the Catholic calendar in 1631, falls during the observance of Lent, during which the Catholic church prohibits the consumption of meat (exceptions are made on Fridays, also fish doesn’t count as meat in the prohibition). However, the Church lifts the ban on St. Patrick’s Day to allow and encourage members to feast and celebrate the Saint.
  10. The dish commonly associated with St. Patrick’s Day is corned beef and cabbage. However, it turns out that it’s an American tradition. In Ireland, cabbage and bacon are commonly served on the feast day. However, in Colonial New York, Irish immigrants living in slums couldn’t afford bacon. Instead they purchased leftover corned beef rations from ships returning to port after long voyages. The “corn” in corned beef is actually salt. The meat had large salt grains, known as corns of salt due to their size comparison to kernels, because it was used as a preservative. The poor immigrants would purchase the leftovers and boil it three times to get ride of the taste of brine before serving it with cabbage.

For anyone wondering why I keep capitalizing Saint when it is not directly followed by Patrick’s name, it’s because there is a difference between saint with a lowercase s and Saint with a capital S. Saint with a capital letter refers to someone who has been canonized by the Catholic Church. However, saint with a lowercase letter retains it’s original definition–believer. All Christians are saints, but very few are recognized as Saints.

There are many catchy Irish Blessings, but I’ll leave you with this one because I grew up with it embroidered and framed on the wall of the farm house we lived in: May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

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