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The origins of St. Patrick’s Day

Mar 09, 2023 12:22PM ● By Verlene Johnson

In 1631, the Catholic church declared March 17 as Feast Day in honor of Saint Patrick. However, celebrations for Saint Patrick were happening in the ninth and tenth centuries. Saint Patrick was born around the fourth century to an aristocratic family in Roman Britain. When he was a teenager, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates who took him to Ireland to be a slave. After a number of years, he escaped. However, he eventually returned to Ireland as a missionary converting a large part of the Irish population to Christianity. Patrick used the shamrock or three leaf clover to teach about the Holy Trinity. While his death date is unknown, some sources cite it as March 17, 461. After his death, Patrick became the patron saint of Ireland, and March 17 became a holy day for Catholics. 

In Ireland, this is a religious holiday, a day where the Irish attend religious services and feast on bacon or ham and cabbage. It did not become a public holiday in Ireland until 1904. In fact, pubs were closed across Ireland on March 17 up until 1970. It wasn’t until 1995 that Ireland adopted American traditions to boost tourism.  

It was Irish immigrants in America who evolved the religious holiday into a more secular celebration. The first recorded celebration was in 1737, when homesick Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched in Boston and New York City. Thus, began the popular tradition of parades in cities such as New York, Boston, Savannah and Chicago. In 1914, an Irish coroner living in New York named Dr. Thomas Hayes dyed beer green with blue food coloring to honor his Irish traditions.  

Green is the official color of St. Patrick’s Day. But why? The tradition comes from Irish folklore that says wearing green makes you invisible to Leprechauns, who will pinch you if they see you. Leprechauns come from a Celtic belief in fairies. The original folklore figures are “lobarcin,” meaning “small-bodied fellow.” Tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. Along with pinching on St. Patrick’s Day, there is also the tradition of kissing. The phrase, “Kiss me, I’m Irish,” came from Irish immigrants who believe kissing a person from Ireland is the next best thing to kissing the Blarney Stone. 

It is widely thought that corned beef and cabbage is the national dish of Ireland. In fact, corned beef is not extensively consumed there. The custom of corned beef and cabbage came about in the 19th century when Irish-American immigrants couldn’t afford bacon for their traditional St. Patrick’s Day feast. The salted and cured beef was the next best option for these improvising immigrants. They would go down to the ships returning from China and buy the leftover corned beef. Adding cabbage, potatoes and carrots made for a hardy meal, and it still is a popular dish to serve on March 17 in America.

For those who do not enjoy corned beef and cabbage, it has become popular in America for people to dye their food, such as milk, eggs or pancakes, green for St. Patrick’s Day. Irish Soda, Irish coffee and Irish stew have become popular fare in America. 

Turning toilet water green, leprechauns leaving green footprints and gold chocolate coins around the house have become traditions of many in Morgan. Many families enjoy making leprechaun traps with leprechauns leaving a treat as they escape from being trapped.

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