St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday for luck, rainbows, gold, and leprechauns. However, aside from those typical associations, there is much history about this holiday and how it originated.
“St. Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland,” Dr. Ryan Burns, assistant professor of history, said.
St. Patrick was alive during the fifth century and was originally from Britain. He was kidnapped by Irish slave traders and was taken to Ireland to live as a slave for many years. When he escaped slavery, he went back to Britain, but he felt a yearning to go back to the place where he had been enslaved and to preach the gospel, according to Burns.
When he returned to Ireland to preach the gospel he converted many people to Christianity, such as kings, and ended up converting the entire island to Christianity. The day of his feast was created on March 17 and is celebrated annually.
In Ireland, this holiday is traditionally celebrated to do whatever you gave up for lent, which is a Christian practice of fasting for 40 days. This is like Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras, which is before lent, where you’re able to do anything that you wanted before giving something up for lent for 40 days.
“So, that meant then that St. Patrick’s Day was the day where people could get very drunk and they could be boisterous and party,” Burns said.
Irish immigrants are the reason why this holiday became popular in America. They wanted a holiday to express their Irish roots. This holiday was more important to immigrants than it was in the country of Ireland.
“That became the day to be Irish. You can drink Irish beer, you can dress in green which is also a color of Irish nationalism,” Burns said.
Some traditions originated in the U.S. and are now done in Dublin, Ireland to celebrate this holiday. These traditions include dyeing rivers green and eating corned beef.
Aside from the background and origin of St. Patrick’s Day, there are several traditions associated with it such as wearing green, decorating with rainbows and pots of gold, and even pinching those who do not wear green. These quirky traditions may lead people to wonder why they exist. Burns gave some interesting answers to the “why” behind these traditions:
Why do we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day?
“Green is the color of the shamrock. According to some of the legends that surround St. Patrick he is said to have used the shamrock to explain the concept of the Trinity with the three leaves, but it’s one shamrock to show the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” Burns said.
Why do we get pinched if we do not wear green on St. Patrick’s Day?
“We get pinched because we must be servants of the Devil if we don’t wear green,” Burns said.
What is the significance of the four-leaf clover and why does it signify having “good luck”?
“There’s a lot of division about the origins of that significance. There’s four regions of Ireland and it signifies one island with four places. There is also a sense too that the four-leaf clover has some aspect of the shamrock to explain the Trinity, but the fourth is the person of the priest,” Burns said.
Why do we decorate with rainbows and pots of gold?
“A lot of that is Irish lore that then gets transposed onto St. Patrick’s Day. The idea that there are leprechauns who have pots of gold at the end of a rainbow and Ireland rains a lot so there are lots of rainbows that pop up when it’s sunny. We kind of feed into the aspects of Irish culture,” Burns said.
Why is the leprechaun the ‘mascot’ of St. Patrick’s Day and what exactly is a leprechaun?
“A leprechaun, like fairies and a lot of other mythological creatures, is Ireland’s version of dwarfs who are short and who are said to possess some kind of magical abilities to some degree. Leprechauns in ancient Irish folklore will take children to raise them when they are left out by their parents if they’re ill. They kind of exist in a shadow world that you can find at the end of a rainbow which is some place you can’t really find,” Burns said.