Many places around the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 each year. St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He was born in Britain and was captured by Irish pirates at the age of 16. After spending several years in captivity in Ireland, he escaped and made his way back to Britain. He became a priest and returned to Ireland later in life as a missionary. He died there in the year 461. Today he is venerated by several religions, including the Catholic, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Churches.
St. Patrick’s Day became important in the USA because of the sudden influx of Irish immigrants in the late 1840s. Hundreds of thousands of Irish people came to America then because of a famine in their home country. Since the first Irish immigrants were persecuted and discriminated against, early St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the US afforded them a way to demonstrate not only religious dedication, but also Irish culture and pride. Thus, St. Patrick’s Day evolved into a secular holiday.
Soon the Irish immigrants realized they had political power as a large group and organized for their rights. Eventually they formed a large political group known as the Green Machine. Politicians recognized the importance of this group’s vote and began changing policies and attitudes toward the Irish. Still today, politicians attend the festivities to show support and garner votes.
Nowadays in America, people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day even if they aren’t Irish. Many choose to be “Irish for the day”. Special church services are scheduled, school children have lessons about Ireland, and cities hold parades.
Even though St. Patrick’s Day is not a legal holiday, individuals, neighborhoods and most bars, especially Irish pubs, throw big parties with Irish music, food and dancing. Decorations consist of Irish flags, banners and cartoon leprechauns with cartoon pots of gold. Hosts commonly dye the beer green for a St. Patrick’s Day party, and you can even find green cupcakes at the supermarkets.
St. Patrick’s Day parades actually began in America. The first parade, held on March 17, 1762, in New York City, consisted of little more than a group of Irish soldiers serving in the British army before America declared its independence. Their small march has evolved into the largest and longest St. Patrick’s Day parade outside Ireland. Some of the biggest and most well known parades also occur in Boston, Chicago and Savannah, Georgia, where large populations of Irish immigrants settled. In addition to green clothes and shamrocks, you can almost count on seeing and hearing a bagpipes-and-drums corps in any given St. Patrick’s Day parade. The Chicago River, which flows through that city, is dyed green for their parade.
Green is the color of Ireland, owing to St. Patrick’s purported use of the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity during his missions, and also to the fact that Ireland is called The Emerald Isle. On St. Patrick’s Day, people wear green clothes, party hats and shamrocks. Many green T-shirts say “Kiss me, I’m Irish”. This tradition of green clothing on March 17 is called “the wearing of the green.” People who don’t wear green on St. Patrick’s Day are subject to be pinched. Even some baseball teams wear green uniforms on St. Patrick’s Day, notably the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox.
Although St. Patrick’s Day began as a religious observance and there are annual church services especially honoring St. Patrick, today most celebrations are more about Irish culture and fun. So, on March 17, don your green clothes, see an Irish parade, and raise a green beer to Ireland. Erin go bragh!
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