St. Patrick’s Day is upon us again, a time for everyone to embrace their inner-Irish, regardless of whether or not they actually are Irish.
The day has become one of the most festive of all American holidays, packing bars and nightclubs unlike any other day save New Year’s Eve or the night before Thanksgiving. Sure, it’s a day for all to come together to eat, drink and be merry, but it’s also an actual religious holiday with a rich, interesting history.
Every March 17, you’ll see people adorned with shamrocks eating corned beef and cabbage, drinking green-colored beers and cocktails, and attending parades. All these traditions are embraced by hosts of people, but where did they all come from?
According to history and Irish lore, March 17 is St. Patrick’s religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for thousands of years.
Traditionally, Irish families would attend church in the morning, and celebrate in the afternoon and evening on St. Patrick’s Day. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived, thus people could consume the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage. The rest of the day was filled with dancing and, yes, drinking. Bacon and booze? Sounds like my kind of day.
Today’s traditional meal of corned beef and cabbage came about around the turn of the century, when Irish immigrants living in the Lower East Side of New York City substituted corned beef for Irish bacon, in order to save money. The practice has lived on to this day. Interestingly enough, corned beef is now more expensive than bacon.
As St. Patrick’s Day celebrations grew, eventually parades were formed to honor the day. Surprisingly, the first-ever St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in the United States, not Ireland, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City on March 17, 1762.
The parade – and the Irish music played during it- helped the soldiers bond with one another while they reconnected with their Irish roots. Over the next 35 years, Irish patriotism continued to grow, giving birth to several Irish societies, such as the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and the Hibernian Society, and they all began to hold their own parades, complete with bagpipes and drums.
The parades continued to flourish and grow in popularity, becoming a showcase for Irish-Americans to honor their roots. When nearly one million Irish citizens migrated to America in 1845 following the Great Potato Famine, they bonded together with the Irish-Americans to form their own voting block called the “green machine.” The parades then took on even more importance, as politicians would use them to try and gain the Irish vote.
Today, parades are mostly for laughs and good times, as entire communities gather together and adorn themselves with green clothes and shamrocks, the national emblem of Ireland.
It’s widely believed, though not actually proven, that St. Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the Christian doctrine of the trinity. The shamrock was considered a sacred plant in ancient Ireland because it symbolized the rebirth of spring. Eventually, the shamrock became a symbol of Irish nationalism, another tradition that continues today.
So, we’ve got the corned beef and cabbage, the parades and the shamrocks. What’s left? Why, the drinking, of course.
St. Patrick’s Day is one of the biggest days for bars and restaurants across the country, with green beers and cocktails becoming the norm. Much like New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day brings out all drinkers, from lightweights to the biggest boozehounds. Watering holes are stocked and overstocked with libations, their staffs are doubled and tripled, and special activities and events are held.
It’s become quite a scene. Besides honoring the Irish, St. Patrick’s Day is an easy excuse to party in the middle of March. Nothing wrong with that!
So, whether you’re Irish or not, enjoy St. Patrick’s Day. But, when you’re out toasting the day with friends and family, remember how it all began and raise a glass for your Irish brothers and sisters who made this day what it is today.
In closing, I’ll leave you with an Irish toast. The origin and author are unknown, but I think it says it all.
“There are many good reasons for drinking, one has just entered my head. If a man doesn’t drink when he’s living, how the hell can he drink when he’s dead?”
Happy St. Paddy’s Day!