It’s time again to dust off that green blazer that’s been hanging in the closet all year, slurp on some Shamrock shakes from McDonald’s, pluck some shamrocks from the courtyard and order up a pint of stout from ye olde Irish pub. Today is St. Patrick’s Day, but there are some things you should know about this important holiday if you’re going to party like the Irish.
It’ll probably come as no surprise, but St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who was born around the year 386 and died on March 17, 493 — hence the reason St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated every March 17. (It began as a religious feast day — a much needed break from Lent, but has evolved a tad bit since then.) Saint Patrick is buried in Downpatrick, Ireland, the oldest town in Ulster, and this is where you’ll find the largest Irish St. Patty’s Day celebration outside of Dublin. Book your flight now.
Because St. Patrick’s Day is a legal holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Montserrat and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, you’ll be hard-pressed to find businesses open on March 17 in these places, but shouldn’t have any problems finding an open restaurant or a pub.
“It is considered a holiday here, which means no class for Friday,” said Heather Downs, junior in journalism and electronic media, who is currently studying at the University of Ulster at Jordanstown. “All the Irish get pissed (as they call it) on St. Patrick’s Day and, although Dublin is rumored to be the place to go on St. Patty’s Day, Belfast has parades and festivals, too.”
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated all over the world, but the first noteworthy American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day took place in colonial Boston in 1737. New York caught on in 1756, and the history of the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade began there in 1762 — also making it the oldest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the United States. Not to be outdone, in 1962 Chicago began dying the Chicago River green each year in celebration of the holiday.
Legend has it that St. Patrick is responsible for driving all the snakes out of Ireland and into the Irish Sea. It’s not true (snakes are not native to Ireland), but we can give him credit for the association of shamrocks with St. Patrick’s Day: He felt that the shamrock represented the Holy Trinity and referred to wearing a shamrock as “wearing green” — a concept Americans have taken to the extreme.
Despite American traditions, Irish superstition says that wearing too much green is bad luck, according to Bridget Haggerty, author of “The Traditional Irish Wedding” and the Irish Culture and Customs Web site, “except for a bit of Shamrock or ribbon on St. Patrick’s Day.”
This is at least partly because the Good People love the color so much that they won’t be able to resist the temptation to steal a child fully-garbed in green, Haggerty explains. Despite the warnings, Americans love green and lots of it on St. Patty’s Day, and pinching people who don’t wear it is a favored tradition. Perhaps our American ancestors reasoned that if they could beat the Red Coats in their own colonies, they could take on a few fairies without so much as spilling a drink.
“By the way, it’s considered very risky to refer to the good people as fairies, wee folk or little people,” Haggerty cautions.
So as you’re slurring your way through another round this St. Patrick’s Day, take a moment to clink glasses in a toast, shout “slainté” — pronounced SLAN-chay — meaning “health,” and remember not to pick on the wee people.
The Leprechauns did not return calls for comment.