The Origins of Saint Patrick’s Day.

Saint Patrick’s Day is the time of the year where people like to represent their colors,  drink alcohol, and chow down on some corned beef and cabbage. Whether you’re Irish or not, Catholic or Protestant, or someone who just needs an excuse to get drunk, March 17th is a holiday that can make anyone a-wee-bit of Irish for a day.  What is Saint Patrick’s Day really about? And what is up with the pinching for not wearing green?


Saint Patrick

Much of what is known about Saint Patrick comes from his own self declaration.  He came from a wealthy Romano Britain family in the fourth century. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest.  At the age of 16, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders and was taken as a slave back to Ireland. After spending 6 years in Ireland as a shepherd, Patrick heard the voice of God.  God told Patrick to escape his capture by fleeing to the coast where a ship would be waiting to take him home. After fleeing Ireland Patrick became a priest. Patrick returned to Ireland on a mission to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity.  Traditionally it is believed that Saint Patrick died on March 17th and was buried at a cathedral in Downpatrick Northern Ireland.

What About the Snakes?

It was a common belief that Saint Patrick rid Ireland of their overwhelming snake population by playing a special flute that enticed the snakes away from the villages and led them into the ocean.  According to fossil records, Ireland has never been a home to snakes due to Ireland being too cold to naturally host any reptiles. The snake was a metaphor used as a derogatory image to dehumanize the pagans of Ireland.


The Shamrock

According to legend, Saint Patrick used the three-leaved shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the Irish Pagans.  This legend started to appear in writing in 1726. The pagans of Ireland had many triple deities.  It is believed that Saint Patrick redirected these pagan beliefs by using the three leaved shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity concept (Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost) to convert the Irish pagans to Chistianity.


The History Behind the Colors of Ireland

The 5th century saint’s official color was blue.  The color green first became associated with Ireland in a 11th century pseudo-historical book called Lebor Gabála Érenn, (The book of the Taking of Ireland).  There is an Irish mythological story about Goídel Glas, a man credited for being the father of the Gaels and creator of the Goidelic languages, ie.  Irish, Scottish, Gaelic, and Manx. As the story goes Goídel Glas was bitten by a poisonous snake and was saved by Moses. Moses placed his staff on the snake bite and absorbed the venom from the bite but left a permanent green mark as a replacement to serve as a reminder of the incident.  An Irish chivalric order was founded in 1783 and turned Saint Patrick’s Day color association back to blue again. That didn’t last long..

In 1798 an  Irish rebellion was ignited against the British rule and the color green was used to inspire Irish nationalism and unity.  Keep in mind that not all Irish wore or wear green, the color green represents Irish Catholics and the color orange represents Irish Protestant.  William of Orange, the Protestant king of England, Scotland, and Ireland; who in 1690, defeated the Roman Catholic King James II. On Saint Patrick’s Day, Protestants would protest and wear orange instead of green.  The white stripe between green and orange represents a truce between the Catholic majority and Protestant Irish minority.


Today’s Saint Patrick’s Celebrations

Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the British Territory of Montserrat.  It is commonly celebrated by the Irish diaspora in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand.  The first Saint Patrick’s parades started in North America in the 18th century after the Revolutionary War.  Irish soldiers who fought in the war held the parade to connect with their roots after moving to America. The parades in Ireland didn’t start happening until the 20th century.  Eating the traditional Saint Patty’s day meal of corned beef and cabbage didn’t start happening until the 19th century, when most Irish Americans were poor and could only afford the cheapest meat, corned beef.  With cabbage being a Spring vegetable it was a convenient choice as a side vegetable that compliments the traditional meal.

Final Thoughts on Blaming Leprechauns as an Excuse to Pinch 

Have you ever been pinched on Saint Patrick’s day for not wearing green?  If the assailant says something on the lines of, “there’s an invisible leprechaun afoot and they pinch those who don’t wear green”.  The first thought going through my head in that moment would be to turn my head straight to them with the most serious expression on my face while looking them dead in the eyes and in a lightly condescending but in a jokingly way say, “You dummy, you’re not invisible, I can see you” and just watch their facial expression.  Or, pinch them back for believing that they are leprechauns, it’s justified.


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