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Flashback Friday: St. Patrick’s Day

Photo Courtesy of Google Images
Photo Courtesy of Google Images

By Gina Olson


This past Tuesday, many of people celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. Some of you may have pretended to be “Irish for a day”, and some went to parties.  And some of you might’ve stooped over history books (to learn about Saint Patrick) or patches of grass (to find a four-leaf clover). Regardless of how you spent the 17th of March, St. Patrick’s Day, like all holidays, has a history.

Saint Patrick lived during the fifth century and actually arrived in Ireland by kidnapping. Originally from Roman Britain, specifically in Scotland, Patrick was kidnapped to work as a shepherd. Patrick stayed in Ireland through his teenage years to understand the people. Like Saint Nicholas and Valentine, different stories surround his life. (Both Nicholas and Valentine also have holidays which have extended from religion into the secular world, notes Catholic Online.) Many people accept the following story: Patrick received a dream from God, instructing him to go to the coast. There, sailors returned him to his homeland. Later, Patrick had another dream, and felt called to return to Ireland. Patrick first became a priest, and later a bishop. As a bishop, he did return to Ireland and began to spread Christianity to the people. The shamrock was likely an aid for Patrick as he taught about the trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit represented by the three leaves), suggest both Catholic Online and History.com. The date we call “St. Patrick’s Day” comes from the day St. Patrick died, March 17, 461.

This holiday has many secular aspects to its history, too. In 1762, Irish members of the English military marched in the first St. Patrick’s Day parade. They paraded through New York City, taking pride in their Irish Identity. It gave them an opportunity to “reconnect with their Irish roots”, suggests History.com.  So, the celebration actually took place in America, rather than Ireland. In fact, the 1800s and 1900s contain much struggle to honorably portray the identity of Irish Americans. To find work and food, many Irish people immigrated to America 1845, the year of the Irish Potato Famine. The media portrayed the Irish as drunken monkeys, according to History.com, and not until these parades became annual did the damaging stereotypes begin to lift.

Finally, the clover again. Celtic priests, called Druids, thought three-leaf clovers/ shamrocks gave them the ability to see approaching evil spirits and escape their attacks. Clovers with four leaves supposedly gave people the ability to “ward off bad luck”, and in the Middle Ages, children also believed the clovers would give them the ability to see fairies. For every one four-leaf clover, according to Better Homes and Gardens, 10,000 three-leaf clovers exist. Also, clovers don’t naturally grow with four leaves. With this rarity, with or without magic, finding a four-leaf clover does seem lucky.

So, whether you spent this holiday celebrating your Irish heritage, being Irish for a day, studying, or hunting for clovers on the ground, you honored this holiday.