Saint Patrick is so important to Ireland, because he was a bishop there in the fifth century, and now he is the primary patron saint of Ireland. As a Christian missionary he became known as the “Apostle of Ireland”. His mission was to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. There are many legends connected with St. Patrick. One of them explains why he is so strongly associated with a shamrock – the bishop is said to have used this three-leafed plant as an illustration of three persons in one God. Another legend suggests that St. Patrick rid Ireland of snakes, even though their absence had been noticed already in the third century. Probably post-glacial Ireland never had snakes. Due to these common beliefs, the main symbols connected with St. Patrick’s Day are: the shamrock, the green colour, snakes, serpents, the Celtic cross, a pot of gold and a leprechaun.
St. Patrick’s Day is not only a holiday honouring this important figure, but also the heritage and culture of Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Ireland it is a bank holiday. Other countries, however, often celebrate it too. The most common way of observing the holiday is wearing green clothing. Many pubs and restaurants also have green decorations that day, as well as food and drinks dyed in green food colour. A traditional dish on St. Patrick’s Day is corned beef and cabbage. A common tradition is also organizing parades on 17 March – the first one took place in 1762 in North America, and it was started by Irish soldiers. In Ireland such parades began only in the 20th century. Another important element of observing the holiday is Irish music, which has always been extremely significant in an Irish culture.
Although until the 19th century the colour associated with St. Patrick was blue, nowadays the green colour has become such a worldwide known symbol of St. Patrick’s Day, that in 1962 Chicago decided to dye a portion of the Chicago River green, which is now an annual tradition. Many cities also illuminate their famous landmarks with the green colour. All of these are ways for showing international observances of the Irish holiday.
Did you know?
Many people strongly associate St. Patrick’s Day with drinking beer, often having a green colour. This is because the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for the day. In order to include the symbol of a shamrock into this part of the celebration, a custom of “drowning the shamrock” has appeared. The three-leafed plant should be put into a cup and then poured with alcohol – Irish whiskey, beer, or cider. After drinking it as a toast to St. Patrick, the shamrock can be swallowed or tossed over the shoulder for good luck.
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