Over the past decades, a popular Irish festival has taken over the world. What is the background of St. Patrick’s Day, what are the myths around it, and how do we celebrate it nowadays?
Every year on 17 March, certain parts of the world turn emerald green. People, especially in English-speaking countries, dress in green costumes, devour green-dyed drinks and food, and even rivers change color to green, all this to celebrate the St. Patrick’s Day. But what’s behind all the commotion and why has this day become one of the most widely celebrated national holidays in the world?
Popular St. Patrick’s festivities didn’t originate in Ireland
Long story short, it is to commemorate the death date of patron saint St. Patrick, who died in the fifth century, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. For centuries, though, the Irish were celebrating in solemnity, attending church in the morning and having a simple feast later in the afternoon to honor the Irish culture and heritage.
To the contrary to a widespread belief, the United States is largely behind the popular merrymaking customs of St. Patrick’s. While in Ireland it stayed a minor religious holiday until the 1970s, Irish immigrants to the US have turned it into a popular feast in their new home country.
The first documented instance of the celebrations in the US comes from 1737, and it was organized by the Charitable Irish Society of Boston, followed by New York City in 1756.
The first parade was in New York in 1762
In 1762, the first parade made of Irish soldiers in the British army marched down Broadway, starting the tradition of military-themed parades. It has mostly been cities with a considerable number of Irish immigrants who have started and grown it into an official annual parade.
Nowadays, one of the biggest parades is in Chicago, with hundreds of thousands of people crowding the banks of the Chicago River to celebrate it turning green for the celebrations. Even the White House fountain in Washington, D.C. turns green for the day.
Yes to shamrocks, no to snakes
Commonly people also wear shamrocks, which also happens to be the national flower of Ireland. St. Patrick allegedly used shamrocks to explain to others the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
It was also believed by some that St. Patrick rid Ireland of snakes. Indeed there are none on the island today but as it is surrounded by cold waters, no snakes could reach the island.
If you wear green, leprechauns won’t be able to see you
A legend has it that by wearing green, leprechauns won’t be able to spot you, and if they can’t spot you, they also won’t be able to pinch you. Thus, nowadays, if you don’t dress green, you might have to face an occasional pinch from others.
Initially, the color associated with Ireland was blue. In early Irish mythology, Irish sovereignty was represented by a woman dressed in blue and the earliest depictions of St. Patrick (who actually wasn’t even born Irish) show him wearing blue garments. Also, when George III created a new chivalry order for the Kingdom of Ireland, its official color was “St. Patrick’s Blue”.
Green was adopted later as part of the Irish rebellion, even though traces of blue can still be found on state official paraphernalia, such as the Presidential flag and Constitution of Ireland.
Besides everything turning emerald green, there are other traditions associated with the day, which every country celebrates ever so slightly. So what are these traditions and how are they observed?
How people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day around the world
While St. Patrick’s Day usually emphasizes everything Irish, the vibe and atmosphere of the celebrations are very contagious. That’s why it has managed to get spread all around the world — and even beyond. However, each place has added a notion of its own culture to this green frenzy over the years.
Irish tango — El Dia de San Patricio, Buenos Aires, Argentina
One of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parties in the world takes place in the city center of Buenos Aires. Officially called El Dia de San Patricio, the event celebrates the origin of roughly 500,000 Irish who call Argentina their home. Around 50 food and beer stands open along Avenida de Mayo at noon, followed by live music and dancing performance at Plaza de Mayo in the afternoon. Visitors can also look forward to true Irishness presented by a U2 tribute band called Andi Pomato along with performances of various Irish dance troupes.
Catch an anime leprechaun
Another country where St. Patrick’s Day has found its particular place is Japan. Tokyo introduced a parade in 1992 as an incentive by Irish expats. And what started as a small gathering has quickly grown into the largest Irish event in Asia. The celebrations take place over the course of all weekend and feature a unique mixture of typical St. Patrick’s Day traditions and Japanese costumes and dress-up.
March through the streets of Moscow
It took some time until the Russian Orthodox Church decided to acknowledge Saint Patrick in its liturgical calendar. However, as they work with a slightly different calendar, they celebrate the day on 30 March. Meanwhile, in Moscow, the officials have been organizing a Saint Patrick’s Day festival since 1999. The official part of the event consists of a military march while the unofficial resembles a carnival. Every year, more than 70 Ireland-related celebrations take place in the country of Russia.
Take a day off in Montserrat
The tiny state of Montserrat, which is also dubbed as the Emerald Island of the Caribbean, takes the whole St. Patrick’s Day pretty seriously. Apart from the Canadian province of Newfoundland & Labrador and Ireland itself, Montserrat is the only place where the event is a public holiday. The Irish heritage is engraved in the history of the island as the country was founded by Irish refugees from Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Reach for the green stars — International Space Station
Earth was apparently not enough for St. Patrick, and recently, this now worldwide celebration has reached the stars. On 17 March 2011, Irish-American astronaut Catherine Coleman played old Irish songs on a hundred-year-old flute onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Two years later, astronaut Chris Handfield shot a video of him singing the famous Danny Boy song while wearing a green outfit on the very same space stations.