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The luck of the Irish: The little-known history of a popular holiday

Rachel Bernstein

Rachel Bernstein

Emily Kraus, Staff Writer

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St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday celebrated by the Irish every year on March 17.  We have come to know the symbol of the lucky clover, the traditional Irish soda bread, corned beef and cabbage meals, and the sea of green decorations.

It is a day that many people, even those who are not Irish, acknowledge by dressing in green and showing that holiday spirit.  However, have you ever thought about where all of these traditions come from? Why these symbols and celebrations that represent this holiday are here today?

This holiday is in honor of Saint Patrick, who was the patron saint of Ireland that died on March 17, 461 CE.  The national holiday of Ireland,  it has evolved to be a secular holiday, at least in Ireland.  Ironically enough, this holiday started off in the seventeenth century as a day of religious feasting.

Although St. Patrick was not Irish himself, he is widely recognized for being of great service to Ireland during the fifth century.  The story says that he helped to spread Christianity across Ireland.

“This holiday is actually called St. Padraig’s day in Ireland, but in America, it has been translated to Patrick.  Because of this, we can also call it St. Paddy’s day!” said junior Molly McLoughlin.

There are many legends associated with St. Padraig.  One example of a legend is the three-leaf shamrock, a lucky symbol and a fun decoration and accessory for this holiday.

The story says that St. Padraig used the shamrock to explain the Trinity: the combination of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and was used to adorn people’s jackets.  The fact that there are three leaves is also significant because three is the magic number of Ireland.

Have you ever been pinched on St. Patrick’s day for not wearing green?  Well there is a reason that has been a tradition of the holiday.  People believed that if you wore green, the leprechauns would not be able to see you.  The pinching was to remind those not wearing the green that we could all see them, and that the leprechauns would sneak up on them.

You might be thinking, how did this holiday spread all the way from Ireland?  Irish Immigrants who settled in Boston began to celebrate it in 1737.  Soon after came the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1762 in New York City.  Today, about 150,000 people march in the parade, and there are about two million people watching from the sidelines.

Another tradition of St. Patrick’s Day is Irish soda bread.  It was first introduced in Ireland around 1840 as a staple meal that was cheap to make, and could feed poor Irish families.  It is named soda bread because of the essential baking soda ingredient.  Poor families could not afford yeast, so they relied on baking soda to elevate the flour, and soured milk to activate the baking soda.

Families also made a cross on top of the dough before baking it, so as to keep the devil away.  Even the shape of the bread has a meaning: each one is shaped into the shape of the region of Ireland in which it was prepared.  To Americans, Irish soda bread is a tasty treat, but to Irish families, it was usually eaten with every meal.

Sometimes, we tend to not realize the rich history that a simple holiday has when the celebrations, the decorations, and the food is more in front of our faces.  However, a holiday like St. Patrick’s Day really has a lot history, which can tell us a lot about religious beliefs and Ireland itself.

Hopefully, the next time you are wearing a green shirt with a three-leafed shamrock on it, you can tell all about what it really means.

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The luck of the Irish: The little-known history of a popular holiday