The annual green-coloured event started out as a quiet religious holiday or feast day for St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. A feast day is a type of celebration, usually in the Christian faith, that is commemorated with a meal. People traditionally celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by attending mass and reflecting on the life and legacy of St. Patrick.
The date commemorated the day St. Patrick is believed to have died in 461 AD. For the most part, after his death, St. Patrick was mostly forgotten. But mythology slowly grew around the religious figure and by the 9th and 10th century the people of Ireland began observing St. Patrick’s Day as a feast day.
Parties and parades
Believe it or not, America is responsible for turning St. Patrick’s Day into the party we all know and love. Early celebrations first began in Boston in 1737 and New York in 1762. The celebrations continued to grow as more and more Irish immigrants came to the country – especially after the Irish Potato Famine in 1845. Today many cities and towns celebrate with parties and parades, New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest parade in the country. In Ireland, the holiday was a pretty tame event up until the 1970’s. The revelry associated with St. Patricks’s Day is associated with the prohibitions on eating meat, drinking and dancing during Lent being lifted for the day.
There’s no doubt that all St. Patrick’s Day events will feature a sea of green colour. The colour green has a lot of connections both to Ireland and spring. First of all it’s featured in the Irish flag, Ireland is also nicknamed the “Emerald Isle,” it represents the March spring season and it is the colour of shamrocks. Irish American legend has it that if you don’t wear green, you risk being pinched by leprechauns. The colour is said to ward off leprechauns who would pinch anyone they could see, that is anyone not wearing green.
Three leaf clover
According to legend St. Patrick used the three leaf clover (or shamrock which comes from the Gaelic word Seamrog) to visually illustrate the concept of the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) when trying to convert pagans to Christianity. The clover plants are also in natural abundance across the country.
Every year the Chicago River is dyed green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The act dates back to 1962, when Mayor Richard J. Daley and Stephen M. Bailey, a boyhood friend and then-St. Patrick’s Day parade chairman, started the tradition. Two boats, one large one small, are responsible for dying the river. One boat dumps about 40 pounds of an environmentally friendly orange powder into the river which turns the liquid bright green. The smaller boat then chases the larger boat to churn the water and disperse the colours across the river. It takes roughly 45 minutes for the river to run green and depending on the direction of the wind the water can stay green for a few days after.
Corned beef and cabbage
We’re all familiar with the iconic ‘Irish’ dish which is traditionally eaten on St. Patrick’s Day. But corned beef is really an American creation. In Ireland the cabbage dish would traditionally be made with lamb or bacon because cows were no used for their meat in Gaelic culture, rather for their strength in fields and their milk. Corned beef and cabbage is an Irish American dish, immigrants were so poor they could not afford certain meals but corned beef was in abundance thanks to the kosher butchers in New York. It has since become a staple for the holiday.