Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, and here in the USA, that would typically mean parades, wearing green, shamrocks, and lots of beer. Then there are leprechauns, mythical green men, that I was taught about in first grade. Saint Patrick’s Day is also known as the Feast of Saint Patrick. The short story is that it is a cultural and religious celebration held on March 17th, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick, the foremost patron saint of Ireland.
My First St. Patrick’s Day
I remember still struggling to understand English in my second year at the International School of Prague. At seven years old, I had few experiences outside my Ukrainian household where everyone was direct. I did not believe in Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, or any other magical creatures. This is because when my parents would tell me ‘this is a fairytale’ before reading or telling me stories.
I think they made sure to distinguish what was real because my mom would also watch horror movies with me and didn’t want me to be scared. So imagine my surprise when my teacher begins telling me about St. Patrick’s Day. She went into such detail about the leprechauns and pots at the ends of rainbows. We even spent the day making leprechaun traps!
Every time we left the classroom, I looked around, trying to spot one of these tiny green men. I 100% believed that they were real because it was the first time an adult had told me a story without even hinting that it was not real. Unfortunately, I did not catch a leprechaun in my trap.
The History – St. Patrick Was Kidnaped
St. Patrick’s Day dates back more than 1,500 years! The earliest known celebration was held on March 17th, 1631. It marked the anniversary of the death of St. Patrick in the 5th century. St. Patrick was actually born in Britain near the end of the 4th century.
When he was just 16, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and sold as a slave to a Celtic priest in Northern Ireland. He spent six years as a shepherd before he escaped back to Britain. He became a Christian missionary and ended up returning to Ireland eventually.
One of the famous legends associated with St. Patrick is that he banished snakes to Ireland. Science claims that there were never snakes in the country’s fossil record or the water surrounding Ireland. So next time you see that depiction of him standing on a snake, unfortunately, that is fake news!
What Are Leprechauns?
The original Irish name for St. Patrick’s Day leprechauns is ‘lobaircin,’ which means ‘small-bodied fellow.’ Leprechauns are believed to be red-haired and clothed in green. The belief in leprechauns likely stems from the Celtic belief in fairies. In Ireland they are considered tiny men and women who can use their magical powers to serve good OR evil.
“In Celtic folktales, leprechauns were cranky souls, responsible for mending the shoes of the other fairies.”History.com
New York City: St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Although it is originally Irish, the first-ever St. Patrick’s Day parade happened in New York City. In 1895, the tradition of NYC’s St. Patrick’s Day parade began! It was a huge shock when it was canceled last year, for the first time in over 100 years!
Speaking of Irish people in America, when Irish refugees first arrived after the potato blight in 1845 that killed 1 million, they were looked down upon. Nearly a quarter of the Irish nation immigrated to the USA, and they were seen as disease-ridden, unskilled, and a drain on welfare budgets. Today, things are different, and Irish Americans are proud to showcase their heritage.
Still speaking of America, the St. Patrick’s Day staple meal – corned beef and cabbage – was an American innovation. Even though ham and cabbage were eaten in Ireland, corned beef was a cheaper option for Irish immigrants.
“Irish-Americans living in the slums of lower Manhattan in the late 19th century and early 20th, purchased leftover corned beef from ships returning from the tea trade in China. The Irish would boil the beef three times—the last time with cabbage—to remove some of the brine.”History.com
A three-leaf clover, known as a shamrock, has been associated with Ireland for centuries. The Celts called them the “seamroy,” and it was considered a sacred plant that symbolized spring arrival. The plant was a visual guide when explaining the Holy Trinity. By the 17th century, the shamrock had become a symbol of emerging Irish nationalism.
Summary: St. Patrick’s Day
Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, and now you know everything you need to celebrate this fantastic holiday! Now you know that leprechauns are Irish fairies, that St. Patrick was kidnaped as a teenager, and that NYC was the home to the first-ever parade! Cheers.
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