Going green isn't trendy - the Irish have been doing it for centuries! On March 17th, St. Patrick's Day, the whole world joins them in a clover-hued celebration of parades, dancing, singing, and general Guinness-fueled revelry. But why?
The real story is often overlooked in the haze of costumes, cliches, and - in this case - green beer, but all great holidays evolve out of beloved traditions preserved by a people to remember some momentous event. In the case of St. Patrick's Day, we can thank the Irish for nurturing an old religious tradition into the worldwide holiday we celebrate today.
Long Ago, When Years Only Had 3 Digits...
Sometime after becoming the champion of Christianity in Ireland, Patrick died on March 17th (how everyone could remember the precise day and month, yet forget the year he died is still a mystery). On account of his immense popularity and work spreading the word, he was declared a saint by the church. Fun fact: St. Patrick's sainthood came about so early in the church's history that he is only one of a few saints never formally canonized by a Pope.
Before the St. Patrick's Day gift basket there was a traditional St. Patrick's feast day. The people loved a feast day, because until the 1900s every day that wasn't a feast day was Back-breaking Work Day or Pestilence Day. In the early days of the church, sainthood didn't require a Papal blessing; it was sufficient to simply be saintly. A few hundred years and few hundred martyrs later, there were more saints to celebrate then there were days in the year. To make things a little easier, the church gave the really important saints feast days. By the mid 1600s, the feast in honor of St. Patrick was celebrated on the date of his death: March 17th: St. Patrick's Day.
Out of Ireland
So, you may be thinking, "I'm not Catholic, and I don't live in Ireland; how did I end up celebrating St. Patrick's Day?" Simple - the Irish spent the next few hundred years immigrating around the world, and they took the traditions of the old country with them. St. Patrick's feast day was deeply entrenched in the roots of Irish history, and thusly began to evolve into a celebration of Irish heritage more than a celebration of St. Patrick's successful Christian mission. St. Patrick himself was actually associated with the color blue, but because Ireland is synonymous with green, that became the official color of the holiday. Over the years, prejudice toward Irish immigrants waned and the world began to notice that having a great big celebration in the middle of March wasn't such a bad idea.
Unlike other holidays that require weeks of preparation, all you need for a St. Patrick's Day celebration is good cheer and something green. That's part of the reason it's so accessible to people around the world. Argentina, Canada, Great Britain, Japan, the US, and even South Korea - which began celebrating St. Patrick's in 2001 - have parades, display the shamrock, chase leprechauns, wear green, and drink Irish beer and whiskey every March 17th.
Kiss Me, I'm a Tourist - Where to Celebrate St. Patrick's Day
In 1962, Chicago sewer workers using dye to check for sewer discharges got the idea of using the same dye for a celebratory purpose that didn't involve the words "sewer" or "discharge." Every year since this epiphany, 40 pounds of vegetable dye is used to turn the Chicago River green on St. Patrick's Day. Indianapolis also dyes its main canal green, and Seattle paints the road stripes of the parade route green. In the past two years, the White House has recognized St. Patrick's Day by greenifying the north fountain.
Since 1824, Montreal has had the longest running St. Patrick's Day parade in North America. The first St. Patrick's Day parade in the world was in the United States in 1737. Curiously, one of the latest arrivals to the parade party was Ireland itself. Dublin never had a parade for St. Patrick's Day until 1931! They've made up for it in style, though. Ireland made St. Patrick's Day an official commemoration of Irish culture in 1996, and the St. Patrick's Day Festival is now held in every major Irish city from Dublin to Waterford. Still, a rugby rivalry rears its ruddy head every year, when the US and Ireland play the St. Patrick's Day Test, league tournament between the two countries every March 17th.
More St. Patrick's Day Questions
There is much more to learn about peculiar celebrations of St. Patrick's Day than we can fit in a single article. However, we're aware that there are still two major questions left to be addressed:
Leprechauns?The leprechaun wasn't originally associated with St. Patrick's Day. Merely a part of Irish folklore, a leprechaun is said to be a fairy that makes shoes (not cereal) and hordes gold (earned from selling shoes?). As St. Patrick's Day evolved into a broader celebration of Irish culture, leprechaun imagery finds itself front and center.
Why do I get pinched if I don't wear green? Ouch! The act of pinching someone for lack of green garment is only seen in the USA, and no one quite seems to know for sure why it started. We in the gift basket business have mixed feelings about this tradition: we hate getting pinched, but pinch-bruises and alcohol-fueled headaches do increase the number of "get well soon" gift baskets sent on March 18th.
You've Been Blarneyed
So now you know a little bit of everything about St. Patrick's Day and how it came to be. What do you do with this knowledge? You use it to tell fun anecdotes as you hand over a St. Patrick's Day gift basket this March 17th. Feel smug and smart or perhaps win a drinking bet by proving you know why the basket has so many clovers on it or where the earliest St. Patrick's Day parade was held. As the holiday approaches, consider St. Patrick's Day gift baskets as a fun way to celebrate, and get ready to don your green and take to the streets. Slainte!