St. Patrick’s Day: a time of celebration, Irish flags and the one day your assignee Sherry is forced to wear something that’s clearly not her color. For Americans, St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday as familiar as any—but it’s one with a strong history and cultural background that goes way beyond wearing green. For assignees in Ireland looking to impress their new Irish friends (or for those simply looking to learn to true meaning of St. Patrick’s Day!), here’s the real story of St. Patrick’s Day and the man behind the legend.
For starters: Who is St. Patrick?
St. Patrick may be the patron saint of Ireland, but he was actually born in 387 in... Great Britain. According to our friends at the History Channel, Patrick was never religious as a child and never thought he would venture to Ireland.
It wasn’t religion or happenstance that brought Patrick to Ireland: it was pirates. Patrick was kidnapped from his family and taken to Ireland when he was 16, where he was forced to work on a sheep farm for over five years. In almost complete isolation, Patrick turned to religion and eventually fled captivity and returned back to Britain. However, Patrick was drawn to Ireland and decided to return to spread his Christian faith throughout the land he came to know during captivity. There are many legends concerning his missionary work: in one, he banishes all snakes from Ireland, chasing them into the sea after they attacked him during a 40-day fast. Patrick eventually died on March 17th 461 and a universal holiday was started in his honor.
Where did St. Patrick’s Day traditions come from?
Contrary to popular belief, those McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes you wait all year for have a lot more to do with St. Patrick than you think. During his lifetime, St. Patrick was commonly seen carrying a shamrock to symbolize both the Holy Trinity and Ireland’s greenery. After his death, he started to become synonymous with Irish pride as his life’s reality and folklore started to blend together.
St. Patrick’s shamrocks and green started to take on a larger meaning over the years and the Irish began dressing in green to honor their country every year on the anniversary of his death. However, those Irish celebrations United States citizens have come to know and love actually never originated in Ireland at all. During the Great Potato Famine, many Irish people were forced to immigrate to the United States, and were largely discriminated against by other nationalities upon their arrival. In order to combat this, Irish immigrants began celebrating their Irish heritage stateside. While there had been celebrations of the feast day in Ireland for hundreds of years, the first St. Patrick's Day parade didn’t take place in Ireland at all—it was in New York City in 1762.
Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by the Irish diaspora all over the world, but especially in Great Britain, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand. However, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated from Russia to Japan to outer space—seriously! In 2011, flight engineer Cady Coleman brought celebrations outside the atmosphere with a flute performance in honor of the holiday.
While assignees in Ireland may not have the New York parade to look forward to, they will be partaking in a holiday with rich traditions and a force that continues to unite the Irish year after year. For those looking for more ways to flex their Irish muscles, take a look at our St. Patrick’s Day Irish Course. If you, your assignee or anyone you know is interested in taking this course, click the link below to access Mango through your local library.