Friday, March 16, 2007

Why St. Patrick's Day?

I remember being in the States one St. Patrick's day and had ordered breakfast and my eggs had been coloured green along with the bacon and there was a clover stamped in my toast. Later stopping for a drink in a pub the beer also was green. From my British perspective it all seemed a bit excessive. Why has St. Patrick's day been celebrated so much when St. David of Wales or St. George of England are virtually neglected. Here in Canada it is given a token nod but nothing compared to Ireland or the US.

Saint Patrick's Day has come to be associated with everything Irish: anything green and gold, shamrocks and luck. Most importantly, to those who celebrate its intended meaning, St. Patrick's Day is a traditional day for spiritual renewal and offering prayers for missionaries worldwide.

Shamrocks have been symbolic of many things over the years. According to legend, the shamrock was a sacred plant to the Druids of Ireland because its leaves formed a triad, and three was a mystical number in the Celtic religion, as in many others. St. Patrick used the shamrock in the 5th century to illustrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as he introduced Christianity to Ireland. The shamrock became symbolic in other ways as time went on. In the 19th century it became a symbol of rebellion, and anyone wearing it risked death by hanging. It was this period that spawned the phrase "the wearin' o' the green".

Today, the shamrock is the most recognized symbol of the Irish, especially on St. Patrick's Day, when all over the world, everyone is Irish for a day! So, why is it celebrated on March 17th? One theory is that that is the day that St. Patrick died. Since the holiday began in Ireland, it is believed that as the Irish spread out around the world, they took with them their history and celebrations. The biggest observance of all is, of course, in Ireland. With the exception of restaurants and pubs, almost all businesses close on March 17th. Being a religious holiday as well, many Irish attend mass, where March 17th is the traditional day for offering prayers for missionaries worldwide before the serious celebrating begins.

In American cities with a large Irish population, St. Patrick's Day is a very big deal. Big cities and small towns alike celebrate with parades, "wearing of the green," music and songs, Irish food and drink, and activities for kids such as crafts, coloring and games. Some communities even go so far as to dye rivers or streams green!


Claire said...

Dye rivers or streams green? that's crazy!
St Patrick's Day makes me feel a wee bit sad, now that my grandparents have died (Grandad was from Dublin)
Happy St Patrick's Day!

jmb said...

Nice post Vic. We had masses of Irish in Australia when I was growing up but somehow we never had any celebrations there for St Patrick. But my school, St George Girls'High School always celebrated April 23rd, St George's day.

Anonymous said...

It s great to hear Houstons small businesses are able to compete with the American stores. I think this is how small and even large communities lose their identity and heritage. This seems to be a sad an ongoing problem in Canada. I wonder how much Walmart puts back into all the communities they are located in ?

Jeni said...

I joke now that I am not Irish but my kids are so I celebrate St. Patrick's Day with them. Their ancestry on their father's side is Irish and German and on my side, Scottish and Swedish. Heck of a combination, don't 'cha know!