“Kiss me, I’m Irish!” The history behind St. Patrick’s Day in the US

By Noah Newsome
Elm Staff Writer

March 17 is rapidly approaching, with the festivities that have come to be associated with St. Patrick’s Day. But where did the holiday come from, and why is it celebrated so widely in the United States?

Patron of Ireland

St. Patrick’s Day was originally a religious ceremony held in honor of the late Saint observed on the date of his death, March 17.

The man who would eventually become St. Patrick was taken from his native Britain to Ireland as a slave when he was only 16-years-old, though he would eventually escape from his captivity and return to his home.

When he returned to Ireland, it was  to spread the Christian faith as the Irish up to this point had been pagan, meaning they worshiped a myriad of deities.

Various myths and legends arise surrounding St. Patrick, including one story where he rid Ireland of snakes entirely, though the veracity of this story is questionable since snakes never had a major presence on the island in the first place.

This story could be more allegorical, as serpents have been traditionally associated with Satan so this story could be viewed as St. Patrick expelling the influence of Satan, from Ireland.

Another story explains how the Saint used the shamrock, the now-famous three-leafed plant, in order to explain aspects of the Christian Trinity.

What is true is that St. Patrick established many schools, churches, and monasteries during his time in Ireland and many still bear his name.

The national cathedral of Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, is also named after him, though it was constructed many centuries after his death.

The main feasting aspect of St. Patrick’s day comes from the fact that the holiday occurs during Lent, a period between Ash Wednesday and Easter, in which some Christians forgo the consumption of meat and other animal products while engaging in spiritual reflection.

The Catholic Church allows these restrictions to be relaxed during St. Patrick’s day, with those who observe both Lent and St. Patrick’s Day taking full advantage of the loosened restrictions in most cases.

Irish Culture

After his death in the year 461 C.E., many Irish people began honoring St. Patrick with religious ceremonies and feasts, with these traditions being maintained by Irish immigrants.

Irish immigrants had been traveling to the United States even before the American Revolutionary War.

 The Irish presence in the United States then exploded between 1845 and 1852 as an intense famine gripped the island nation, with many Irish folk traveling to the United States in order to make a living.

As the Irish population expanded in the United States, so too did the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

Over time the holiday evolved from a religious ceremony to a more secular celebration of Irish culture.

The shamrock, made famous by St. Patrick, is a symbol with strong ties to Ireland and the plant has loaned its green coloration to the holiday as a whole. Tradition dictates that one should wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, or they risk getting a pinch.

Ireland also bears the moniker of “The Emerald Isle” further reinforcing the connection between the color green and Irish culture.

Even the flag of Ireland sports a green stripe, said to represent the Catholic population of the island, while the orange represents the Protestants with the white stripe representing the peace made between the two groups.

Despite the widespread celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, it is not a federal or bank holiday, meaning that schools and federal offices typically do not take the day off.

Most businesses remain open as well, preferring to use the holiday as an opportunity to offload their green merchandise or sell alcohol and food at a cheaper rate.

While St. Patrick’s Day falls in the middle of spring break, meaning that campus wide activities will be limited, it doesn’t mean you can’t still celebrate the holiday with friends. Make some green drinks, bake some soda bread, and celebrate.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Featured Photo Caption: College students in the United States have an interesting relationship with St. Patrick’s Day that does not relate to its origins, using it as an opportunity to dress up and get drunk, along with other activities, turning the holiday into a second Halloween.

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