Celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day by learning its history
March 19, 2016
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As mint frozen yogurt and t-shirts bearing “Kiss me, I’m Irish” begin to populate storefronts and advertisements this March, many people probably wonder about the origins and significance of Saint Patrick’s Day. Instead of exploiting stereotypes when celebrating this culturally rich holiday in ignorance, Americans should learn the significance of Saint Patrick’s Day traditions.
Saint Patrick was credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland and thus became their patron saint. He is also known as the “Apostle of Ireland” or “Enlightener of Ireland.” Saint Patrick used the shamrock—a three-leafed plant and the most common image that people associate with Ireland and Saint Patrick’s Day—to teach the Irish about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and to illustrate the Christian teaching of three persons in one God. March 17 is said to be the date of Saint Patrick’s death. St. Patrick’s Day originated as a Catholic holiday to celebrate Saint Patrick and Irish heritage. The holiday lifts the restrictions of Lent for a day and permits alcohol and feasting, thus why many indulge in alcohol on this day.
Today, Saint Patrick’s Day is widely recognized throughout the United States to celebrate Irish and Irish American culture. In fact, Henry Cronin, a professor at Boston College, credits the United States with popularizing the holiday, turning it into the global phenomenon it is today.
Previously, Saint Patrick’s Day was celebrated among the Irish very modestly, with mass in the morning and a military parade in the afternoon. Saint Patrick’s Day did not grow in popularity and celebrations until after the American Civil War when Irish Americans sought a way to challenge nativist sentiment toward Irish Americans, who migrated to the United States in increasingly large numbers. By the end of the 19th century, Saint Patrick’s Day was being observed on the streets of major Irish cities such as Boston, Chicago and New York, as well as in other cities such as New Orleans, San Francisco and Savannah. During these celebrations, parades, parties and festivals became more commonplace in observing Saint Patrick’s Day.