A little over 10 percent of Americans have Irish roots. But when any from this bunch are around, they seem to dominate the space: congenial and easy-going, with broad accents showing no signs of eager assimilation. Those are the same people who created and exported the unique social drinking culture. The pub is their living-room, away from home. They come here for a good cheer, good food and beer, and a company. The Irish have a quick but wacky sense of humor, yet their banter is friendly.
Those Americans, who have at least one drop of Irish blood flowing through their veins, are keenly proud of their Irish heritage, ancestry and customs. They have a deep connection to the land of their forefathers, and to Irish traditions. One of those traditions, now widely observed in the United States of America, is Saint Patrick’s Day.
What is St. Patrick’s Day
Saint Patrick’s Day is, no doubt, one of the most popular national holidays celebrated outside its country of origin. The significance of the holiday has grown beyond religious observances. Although, some Irish still attend church on St. Patrick’s Day, contemporary festivities have little to do with spiritual commemoration. You may be asking: who is St. Patrick for the Irish? Officially, he is the Christian patron of their country of origin. But in reality St. Patrick’s Day is all about the Irish people’s sentiments towards their motherland, history and the hardships this people had to endure for centuries in search in a better life.
In the past, poorer people from Ireland often had to leave their homes and go abroad in search of better fortunes. They served the English for centuries. There was a forced massive emigration to America, to escape the horrors of famine following a potato blight. The Great Hunger killed an enormous portion of Ireland’s population. Alternatively it is referred to as the Irish Holocaust as the neighbors had a hand in the goings-on. So, there is a dark side to all that Irish mirth and ostentatious carelessness. In a way, this may also explain why the famous Irish humor has macabre features. On the other hand, the cheer may serve as a way of compensation in the face of injustice and misfortune.
‘When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.’ – Edna O’Brien
History of St. Patrick
Naturally, the Irish would hold St. Patrick in great reverence. He used to serve a master the same way many of their ancestors did. Then he fled, became a priest, and came back to embrace the Irish as his own people. He became a symbol of divine benevolence, and a paragon of resilience. It is no big secret that the English despise the Irish defining the latter as lazy and slovenly, although, ironically, people from Ireland cleaned up English houses for centuries. The Irish reciprocate the feeling. There is nothing strange that they want to imagine their patron Saint, born in England, as a simple good-natured buddy. Affectionately, they even call him St. Paddy, derived from the Irish male name Padraig. Just make dead sure you do not mix it up with Patty!
Folk Tales and All Things Green
Irish people love nature and the big outdoors, epitomized by Ireland’s green hills. They prefer simple pleasures of life to sophisticated entertainments. They love folk music and excel at playing various instruments. Fond of tales and myths, the Irish is a nation of story-tellers with a penchant for stretching the truth. Little is known of the true history of St. Patrick, but numerous are the myths and legends surrounding this historic figure.
As nature-lovers, Irish people like all things green – to such an extent that they have made even their patron Saint wear green, too – posthumously, that is. The church might consider it disrespectful, but people of today want to picture St. Patrick as a mischievous free-spirited leprechaun. In fact, St. Patrick’s color was blue but never green or even emerald, for that matter.
It is popularly known that Saint Patrick chased all snakes from the Emerald Isle. Of course, it can be nothing more than a trope. The post-glacial Ireland was never a comfortable place for reptiles to live. There are no traces of snakes in Ireland whatsoever. So we should take the word ‘snake’ as a metaphor. The scientific explanation would be that Saint Patrick drove out all pagans. However, the Irish may have their own ideas about those ‘snakes’. Perhaps, they like to think that, thanks to Saint Patrick, the ‘snakes’ will never again dare set foot on their beautiful home isle.
Irish Traditions in modern America
Ask an American ‘When is Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland?’ And chances are you will hear the accurate answer. Because on this spring day many Americans don green clothes, and parade through streets of their cities. St. Patrick’s Day marches have become common secular events. People often carry lime-green chrysanthemums.
An amusing explanation of green get-ups on St. Patrick’s Day is that the color renders the wearer invisible for leprechauns, fairy-tale creatures who like to sneak up and pinch people. But if they do not see you, you are safe.
Three-leaved clover, or shamrock, is another shade of green, commonly sported by people of Irish lineage on St. Patrick’s Day. Shamrock is associated with the holiday because St. Patrick used three-leaved clover to explain the nature of the Holy Trinity: the leaves stand for faith, hope and love. Before Christianization, shamrock was carried to thwart evil spirits: the plant supposedly gave the wearer the magical ability to see them.
A fun Irish-American tradition observed on Saint Patrick’s Day is painting rivers green. It is particularly popular in Chicago where each year ecological dye is poured into the local river turning its waters bright green for a couple of hours. The act is meant to call attention to pollution issues.
Why Is Saint Patrick’s Day Celebrated On March 17
In keeping with the liturgical tradition, saints and martyrs are commemorated on the day of their death – the day they exchanged time for eternal life. It is believed that St. Patrick passed on March 17. St Patrick’s Day 2018 falls on Sunday. Although it is the period of Lent, few will be fasting. One of the favorite dishes is corned beef and cabbage. And there will, of course, be many green-colored foods and drinks.