10 things you need to know about St. Patrick’s Day
On March 17, everyone’s a little Irish. Even though St. Patrick’s Day is only a public holiday in a handful of places – the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Newfoundland, Labrador and Montserrat – Irishness is celebrated around the world. We put together a nifty little list of 10 things you need to know about St. Patrick’s Day to help you channel your inner Irishman or Irishwoman.
1. Once upon a time
St. Patrick is one of the most famous patron saints of Ireland: According to the legend, he brought Christianity to the island, made the shamrock fashionable and freed Ireland from snakes. The holiday marks St. Patrick’s death and has been observed as a religious holiday in Ireland for over 1500 years.
2. Cheers to the official holiday!
Ireland only officially started celebrating the day in 1903. Since the Emerald Isle is mainly Catholic and St. Patrick’s Day usually falls on Lent, it used to be a quiet and religious holiday – until the 1960s, when a law allowed pubs to open on St. Paddy’s Day. (Never call it St. Patty’s Day!)
3. The patron saint formerly known as Maewyn
St. Patrick is not actually an Irishman named Patrick: Born Maewyn Succat, the Irish patron saint was actually British. According to the legend, he was sold into slavery in Ireland when he was a teenager, became religious, escaped back to England, became an ordained priest named Patrick and started converting all of the Irish Celtic pagans to Christianity.
4. The freeing of the snakes
He had it with these *** snakes in this *** country.*
According to the legend, St. Patrick freed Ireland from snakes. According to biologists, there were never any actual snakes in Ireland. The diplomatic explanation is that the snakes are a metaphor for paganism that was forced out by St. Patrick.
5. The popularity of shamrocks
It’s said that St. Patrick used shamrocks (aka clovers) to explain the holy trinity (God, Son and Holy Spirit) to the Irish. The Celts believed that each leaf of the clover has a meaning, so using clover leaves as teaching material was fruitful: St. Patrick started several churches, schools and monasteries and made the clover popular.
6. Going green
It’s green as far as the eye can see – from hair to clothes and even food. We’re not talking spinach here but bagels, pancakes, and even beer – if you can put green food coloring in it, it will be served on St. Patrick’s Day. But the coloring fun doesn’t stop there: rivers, monuments and even ski resorts have all been turned green to commemorate the occasion.
7. Green became the new blue
Even though everyone goes green, Patrick himself apparently preferred blue and proof can still be seen on old Irish flags. During the 1798 Irish Rebellion, wearing the the clover and the color green became a symbol of nationalism – and it stuck.
8. Let’s parade
Besides the drinking and green-wearing, watching or participating in a parade is the perfect way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Interestingly enough, the largest St. Paddy’s Day parades are held outside of Ireland as the Irish expat communities around the world are taking the festivities very seriously. More on the best St. Patrick’s Day parades in the world in this post.
During St. Patrick’s Day, the worldwide consumption of Guinness almost triples – from 5.5 million pints on a regular day to 13 million pints. That’s 150 pints per second! Cheers!
10. Nom Nom Nom
Corned beef and cabbage is a classic dish that goes extremely well with all that beer – even though the dish was “invented” by Irish immigrants in New York. This might explain why in the US, over 26 billion pounds of beef and over two billion pounds of cabbage are produced during the holiday.
*It is pure speculation that Samuel L. Jackson’s character in “Snakes on a Plane” had anything to do with St. Patrick. But I’m convinced this must be so.
Image by Abraham Gomez, Flickr / Creative Commons