St Patrick's Day: History, Traditions and Facts You Probably Don't Know
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What’s green, full of Guinness and holding a MacBook? A design student out on St Paddy’s ofc.
St Patrick’s Day as we know it is a Guinness soaked, emerald adorned festival of all things Irish. It’s celebrated emphatically across the globe by all nationalities, because who doesn’t love the Irish? The day is also the third biggest drinking day of the year with gallons of pints being consumed amongst students and literally anyone over the age of 18. St Patrick’s Day is for everyone.
Paddy’s day, as it’s also known, is an inclusive celebration, guaranteed to bring a total cross-section of people together under one green banner and under one pint.
The Irish knees-up is celebrated each year on the 17th of March and to prepare you for this annual revelry, we thought it would be useful to provide a rundown of the history, the traditions and the legends surrounding the day.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend
So, who was St Patrick?
First off, we thought it would be a good idea to introduce you to the man of the hour, Ireland’s only, and very favourite, patron saint hailing from… Britain?
Shut the front door.
Yes, St Patrick was in fact born in Roman Britain. He was taken to Ireland as a slave when he was just 16 years old and later returned to Ireland as a missionary to introduce the Irish to Christianity.
It’s a testament to St Patrick’s work as a missionary that most of Ireland, still to this day, identifies as being Catholic. During his time as a missionary in the late 4th Century, he helped build churches, schools and even monasteries. It’s believed St Patrick incorporated one of the most iconic symbols synonymous with Ireland, the shamrock when teaching about the three aspects of the Christian faith. Clearly, he was an early adopter of the public speaker’s mantra “know your audience.”
His fame and acclaim have resulted in numerous fantastical rumours about him, however, the one that remains to this day is that St Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. Whilst it’s true there are no wild snakes on the Emerald Isle, it’s far more likely that this is because of the icy cold water surrounding the country and the lack of snake friendly weather. The fact this story is still repeated over 1500 years later is an indicator of the strength of St Patrick’s continuing legend.
Celebrating St Patrick’s Day
Traditionally, the 17th of March was marked by a religious mass and feast to celebrate St Patrick. For many, this would involve attending church and a sit-down dinner after the service. The traditional celebration is very far removed from the marvellous spectacles we are now accustomed to in many major cities in England and across the world.
Although St Patrick’s day is traditionally a religious celebration of an Irish saint, the modern-day celebrations have almost no religious connotations whatsoever. As with most branded secular days of celebration, you can trace the origins of the modern form of St Patrick’s Day back to America. For Irish immigrants based in the United States, St Patrick’s Day was originally presented as an opportunity to celebrate their history but has since morphed into a gargantuan commercial festival complete with novelty merch and an enviable dress code.
St Patrick’s Day is synonymous with extravagant street parades across the world; however, these parades were not an Irish creation. Throughout the years, the St Patrick’s Day parades were used as an opportunity to display public solidarity between American Irish immigrants and to show a strong stance by the Irish population against social discrimination most experienced.
The first recorded St Patrick’s Day parade was in 1601 in St. Augustine, Florida. The subsequent centuries saw the tradition of a parade truly take hold across America. Cities across the USA now host St Patrick’s Day parades and it’s seen as a jewel in a city’s social calendar. Each year, the celebrations get bigger, wilder and more fanciful. Chicago really threw down the gauntlet when it comes to over the top celebrations. In 1962, Chicago dyed the Chicago River green – a city tradition that still persists today.
Ironically, the parade and the other festive traditions that were adopted in America for centuries, have only really gained traction in the UK and Ireland in the latter part of the 20th Century. A large driver of the recent adoption of a parade and more prominent celebrations of St Patrick’s Day is due to the commercial benefit cities see off the back of these events and the resulting increase in tourism. Regardless of the reasons, we can confirm the Irish know how to throw a party wherever they may be.
Obviously, we all know that donning your finest gully green garms is an absolute must if you’re going to celebrate St Patrick’s Day and we all know why as well… it’s obvious right? Shamrocks, the Irish flag, the Emerald Isle and Leprechauns all of which are green and symbolic of St Patrick’s Day. Yes… well no not really at all. None of these symbols or motifs has anything to do with or relate in any way to St Patrick or the original religious festival.
In reality, the wearing of green to celebrate St Patrick’s Day is a recent thing. Since the American celebrations shifted the general focus of the day to honour the entirety of Irish culture and history rather than St Patrick, we’ve seen the imagery and iconography evolve as well. Until then, there was no need to wear green to indicate you were Irish. If you were celebrating St Paddy’s day back in the day, you would’ve probably been in Ireland already and most probably Irish. Wearing green as well would’ve been over the top by anyone’s standards.
As well as the shamrock being used as a visual aid to explain the Holy Trinity, this green clover plant has been associated with Ireland for centuries. The Celts, original Irish settlers, considered the humble clover sacred and a symbol of spring.
You’re also bound to see Leprechauns around St Patrick’s day. Leprechauns are old men with red, full beards, dressed in green with buckled shoes and usually adorning a pointed hat whilst puffing on a smoking pipe. Leprechauns also originate from the Celts as fairies with magical powers, full of trickery and always up to mischief. Said to be guarding their infamous treasure, Leprechauns are so ingrained in Irish culture that they have their own day on the 13th of May, although this isn’t nearly as popular as St Patrick’s day.
It’s not St Paddy’s Day without Guinness. Guinness is an Irish stout beer and is unofficially the drink of the day. Guinness estimates that around 150 countries order the dark elixir and that the sales of the stout increase by 819% on St Paddy’s.
The strength and the power of St Patrick’s Day to bring people together from all walks of life has meant the celebrations have transformed into international spectacles. Cities across the globe play host to huge parades celebrating St Patrick’s Day from New York to Dublin and London. The celebrations are truly dazzling and have become a must for any traveller to experience. Trust us when we say there is nothing quite like a packed Irish bar belting out Molly Mallone at the top of their collective voices.
Ultimately, in the light of recent events, the history and the tradition of the festival is really not too important. The pandemic has meant St Patrick Day celebrations have been on hold or cancelled for the past two years. If you are intending to join in this year, you are sure to find a welcoming atmosphere and a warm embrace. Ireland is culturally rich in mythology, music and dancing so you can expect a raucous group knees up and everyone singing long into the night across almost every city in the UK.
Now that there seems to be a more positive outlook where Ms Rona is concerned, with restrictions lifting throughout England, we are super excited to wear our greenest gear, raise a pint of Guinness and jig our jiggiest jig to celebrate this diverse and unique event.
Is love more your thing? Well, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so you best get your gift ideas sorted. But where did it all begin? Check out another UK tradition here.