Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Some might be surprised to learn that St. Patrick's Day is actually a religious holiday celebrated yearly on March 17th.  St. Patrick's Day commemorates the arrival of Christianity in Ireland as well as the life of St. Patrick, who is the patron saint of Ireland.  It became an official Feast day in the 17th century but has gradually become a secular festival, which celebrates Irish culture in general. 

St. Patrick is said to have been born into a wealthy Roman Britain family sometime in the 4th century.  Both his father and grandfather were deacons in the church.  When he was 16 years old, he was taken captive by Irish raiders and was taken to Ireland where he was imprisoned as a slave.  Eventually Patrick was able to flee captivity and return to Britain.  Upon his return, he joined the church and studied to become a priest. 

In 432, Patrick said that God called him to return to Ireland so that he could bring Christianity to them.  After spending 30 years in Ireland, PatrHappy St. Patrick's Dayick passed away on March 17, 461, and was buried in Downpatrick.  Patrick is held in esteem in the Irish church and is heralded for bringing Christianity to Ireland.  According to Irish folklore, Patrick taught the pagan Irish about the holy trinity by using the example of the three leaf shamrock. 

In the early days, the original color associated with St. Patrick's Day was blue.  Over time, however, green began to grow in popularity.  In the 1798 rebellion, Irish soldiers hoping to make a political statement and gather public attention, wore green on March 17th. 

In the mid 1990s, the Irish government began an initiative to globally showcase Ireland and its culture on St. Patrick's Day.  In doing so, the government hoped to make a day whereby all Irish descendents could join in on festivities celebrating their heritage and to have a celebration that was amongst the largest and greatest in the world.  March 17, 1996 marked the first St. Patrick's Day festival in Ireland.  By 2006, the festival had become five days long with almost 1 million people in attendance. 

In the United States, every year since 1991 March has been proclaimed Irish-American Heritage month.  Today St. Patrick's Day is celebrated by both the Irish and non-Irish alike.  For most Irish Americans, St. Patrick's Day is both a religious and festive day.  Many Irish-Americans start the day off with church services followed by parades, parties, Irish music and food, and dances.  Alcohol consumption on St. Patrick's Day has soared over the past several years as individuals are allowed to break their Lenten sacrifices in order to celebrate the day. 

One would think that the largest St. Patrick's Day parade would take place in Ireland; however, this isn't true.  The largest St. Patrick's Day parade takes place in New York City.  It has close to 15,000 people marching in the parade with almost 2 million in spectators lining the NYC streets. 

It needs to be mentioned that there are more Irish-Americans than there are Irish!  There are 36.5 million Americans claiming an Irish heritage.  Ireland, on the other hand, only has a population of about 6 million. 

Erin go braugh! 

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