SUNDAY, MARCH 17: Pin a shamrock to your clothing today in solidarity with the Irish on the feast of St. Patrick’s Day. As the smell of corned beef and cabbage floats through the air, global citizens the world over wear green and make a toast to this ancient saint. For more than 1,000 years, the Irish have lifted the restrictions of Lent on March 17 to indulge in St. Patrick celebrations—and since then, thousands of other Christians have followed suit. So dance, feast and raise your glass to St. Patrick! (Find recipes at AllRecipes and Taste of Home, or for a healthier slant, at Eating Well.)
ST. PATRICK—IN CHURCH AND IN IRELAND
Historical records are unclear, but the story is told that St. Patrick was born in the 4th century to a wealthy family—either in Scotland, England or northern Wales. A self-proclaimed Roman and Briton, Patrick’s genealogy placed him beneath a deacon and priest of the Christian Church. (Learn more at American Catholic.)
Unfortunately, Patrick’s career path was cut short when he was kidnapped, along with several of his father’s slaves, and taken to Ireland. For more than five years, Patrick worked as a slave. One night, Patrick had a dream in which he reportedly was instructed by God to flee from captivity and return to Britain; this he did successfully, and upon reaching Britain he began studying to be a priest. (Wikipedia has details.)
Not long after, Patrick had another dream—this one telling him to return to Ireland for missionary work, because “all the children of Ireland from their mothers’ wombs were stretching out their hands” to him. Patrick returned to Ireland, spent almost 30 years trying to Christianize the pagan land and died on March 17, 461 CE. Legend has it that St. Patrick used a shamrock to explain the Christian Trinity to the Irish, and the small plant has been known as the symbol of St. Patrick ever since. (Find interactive activities at History.com.)
The Irish kept his memory alive for a millennium. More widespread and official Catholic St. Patrick’s Day feasts began in the early 17th century. Both Eastern and Western Christians recognize St. Patrick, for both his influence and historical significance. Ireland followed suit with an official public holiday in 1903, and Ireland elevated the holiday in the mid-1990s when a campaign urged a national festival that would rank among the greatest in the world, thereby showcasing the best of Irish culture and its people. (Looking to host your own St. Patty party? Get ideas from Martha Stewart and Betty Crocker. Kids can get inspired with crafts and more at Kaboose.)
ST. PATRICK’S DAY SHADES OF GREEN
One needn’t be in Ireland to experience the joy of St. Patrick’s Day—any major metropolis will do! In Buenos Aires, Argentina, and across Australia, all-night parties feature dancing in the streets and drinking until the wee morning hours; in both London, England, and Chicago, Ill., notable bodies of water are dyed green amid the parades and other festivities. Canadians in Montreal take pride in the shamrock on their flag, boasting one of the longest-running St. Patrick’s Day parades in North America. Irish Guards of the British Army don shamrocks—flown in from Ireland—on March 17, and Manchester hosts an annual two-week Irish festival in the weeks preceding St. Patty’s. Even Japan, Korea and Russia have taken a liking to the green, with each sporting parades and festivities related to St. Patrick’s Day.
Love Irish dancing? Learn proper stance and a few steps with help from YouTube. Or, watch this YouTube shot of Riverdance. Those interested in costumes, hairstyles and everything in between can read about it all at Irish-dancer.co.uk.