Curious about what’s really going on behind the shamrocks? Here’s a little bit of history behind popular Saint Patrick’s Day traditions, and a few authentic ways you can celebrate your Irish roots.
First, a bit of Saint Patrick’s history
St. Patrick was a Catholic priest in the fifth century. Tradition says he was kidnapped from his native Britain as a child and brought as a slave to Ireland. After he escaped and became a priest, he returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. It is believed he died on March 17th and was buried in what is now Downpatrick.
By the seventh century, Saint Patrick was already regarded as the patron saint of Ireland and the 17th was celebrated as a religious feast in his honor. Today, Saint Patrick’s Day has grown into a celebration of Irish people and culture that takes place around the world.
Here are some ideas for how you can participate in the festivities and celebrate your Irish roots!
Green and Shamrocks
Although the color traditionally associated with St. Patrick is blue, modern St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are completely green. (Chicagoans even dye their river a bright shade of green.)
The tradition of wearing green clothing likely stems from the shamrock. The color green and the shamrock has been used as a symbol of Ireland throughout much of it’s history, as evidenced by the nineteenth-century Irish ballad “The Wearing of the Green.”
The word “shamrock” in the original Irish is seamróg or seamair óg, meaning “young clover.” It is said that St. Patrick would use the three-leafed plant in his teaching as a symbol of the Catholic trinity.
Traditional Irish Blessings
To wish someone a happy St. Patrick’s Day, try using the traditional Gaelic.
The traditional Irish greeting on St. Patrick’s Day: “Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig ort!,” which means “May the blessings of St. Patrick be with you.”
St. Patrick’s Day Food
St. Patrick’s Day serves as a brief reprieve for many Catholics from the deprivations of Lent. It’s a time when children can gobble up sweets and their parents can drink a pint at the local pub before Easter.
Try your hand at a traditional Irish dish. Irish lamb stew, corned beef salad, mashed potatoes and Irish soda bread make a great menu. Click here for recipes for Irish dishes.
Parades, Processions and Cèilis
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with religious feasts and processions, along with parades and parties around the world. Another traditional form of celebration is the Irish cèili, a gathering that often includes traditional Gaelic music and dancing.
Beer and Whiskey
For better or worse, St. Patrick’s Day is often associated with alcohol consumption. The beer of choice is often Guinness. Guinness is a popular dry stout that originated in the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin.
Another beverage if choice is Irish whiskey (don’t forget the “e”!). Whiskey is said to have originated from a medieval drink called uisge beatha or “water of life.” Like Scotch, authentic Irish whiskey (and Irish cream) must be produced in Ireland.
Researching Irish Ancestors!
Of course, St. Patrick’s Day is a great time to delve into your irish roots. Explore these great websites for researching Irish ancestry and check out more tips and tricks below.