It’s time to get ready to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, as the first signs of spring appear.
If you’re in America, you know that Saint Patrick's Day means it’s time to break out the green clothes, green food, green beer, and dye the rivers green!
This holiday originated from Irish culture, but the way we celebrate it in America is really based more out of American culture than the way it was originally celebrated in Ireland (although some of those changes shaped current Irish traditions).
Let’s unpack the history of memorializing Saint Patrick, and see how this holiday transformed over time in both America and Ireland from the impact of the United States.
Table of Contents
The Origin of Saint Patrick’s Day
Saint Patrick is a really important figure in Irish history. He was born in Britain, and was kidnapped by Irish pirates when he was only 16 years old.
Patrick was a slave for 6 years before he was able to return back home. Over the coming years his faith became more serious over time.
He decided to come back to Ireland to do missionary work. Patrick became the person who brought Catholicism to Ireland. He explained the concept of the Trinity to the Irish people using shamrocks (3-leaf clovers).
Eventually, he became known as the patron saint of Ireland.
Creating A Day of Remembrance for Saint Patrick
Over the centuries after his death the Irish people decided to create a day of remembrance on the anniversary of his death.
In the 9th and 10th centuries the Irish in Europe celebrated Saint Patrick's Feast Day.
Luke Wadding, a Franciscan scholar who was born in County Waterford in Ireland, encouraged the Catholic Church to place Saint Patrick's feast day on the liturgical calendar by the early 1600's. This is when the day became a holy day of obligation in Ireland.
Irish people wore shamrocks as decoration in their shirts to attend religious services. This was followed by a special meal.
How Saint Patrick’s Day Got to the United States
As we know, Saint Patrick’s Day didn’t stay in Ireland. The first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in America happened when Irish immigrants wanted to observe the holiday together in their new home in Boston in 1737.
A group of Presbyterians gathered to celebrate and form the Charitable Irish Society, which is a group that still exists and still hosts a yearly celebratory dinner on March 17.
The first Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in the United States happened in New York City in 1762. At the time, the British were occupying Ireland, and had banned the people from wearing green as a sign of Irish pride.
But there was no such rule in America, so part of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities was to wear the color green as a symbol of St. Patrick and their Irish ancestry.
Saint Patrick’s Day in Dublin
This started to change the way people in Ireland understood Saint Patrick’s Day. It wasn’t until the 19th century that parades started to happen in Ireland. In the early 1900s, Saint Patrick’s Day became an official national holiday in Ireland.
In 1931, Saint Patrick's Day was celebrated as a public holiday for the first time in Ireland. The holiday didn’t change drastically at the time, though.
It was mostly continual American influence that led the holiday to shift over time and separate from the way the patron saint’s life was initially celebrated in Ireland.
American Traditions of Saint Patrick’s Day
Once American culture got ahold of Saint Patrick’s Day, their impact on the way the holiday was celebrated snowballed.
They started eating corned beef and cabbage, which was a spring tradition in America. This was accompanied by the wild drinking and partying we’re familiar with today, which was a big change from the bars in Ireland being closed in memory of Saint Patrick.
In addition, all of the bright green shamrock-themed decor, sunglasses, leprechaun outfits and hats, along with food and beer that’s dyed green, were all distinctly American developments.
Even Chicago began to dye the river green annually to celebrate. Through all these developments, Saint Patrick’s Day in America became nearly unrecognizable from the origins of the holiday and the way it was celebrated in Ireland. This is why many people say that Saint Patrick’s Day is more of an American holiday than an Irish one.
Even though the way we celebrate is different than the way it started in Ireland, it’s still a representation of Irish American pride to enjoy all of the festivities!
After all, the way Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in America was initiated by Irish immigrants!
What’s your favorite way to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day?
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Mairéad -Irish American Mom
Pronunciation - slawn ah-gus ban-ock-th
Mairéad - rhymes with parade
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