Here in Milwaukee, many people celebrate their Irish heritage on March 17 with over-the-top outfits, corned beef and of course, green beer. With such a strong and vibrant Irish community, it’s important to remember what St. Patrick’s Day is really about – and it’s more than just an excuse to enjoy an extra pint of Guinness! Here are seven things you should know about this special day:
1. St. Patrick’s Day originated as a religious feast day honoring the patron saint of Ireland. He died on March 17 in the year 461 A.D. Today he is honored as not only a religious figure, but also as a symbol of Irish national pride.
2. St. Patrick was not born in Ireland. At age 16, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and spent six years in captivity working as a sheep herder. During this time, he turned to religion for comfort and peace. Eventually, he escaped and traveled back to his hometown and then to France, where he studied and was ordained a priest. In a dream, an angel instructed St. Patrick to return to Ireland as a missionary. For several decades, he traveled throughout the country to spread Christianity to the Irish people.
3. Why shamrocks? St. Patrick is said to have used the shamrock as a symbol to help spread the message of Christianity. The three leaves represented the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the 18th century, Irish people began to pin shamrocks to their jacket lapels on March 17 as an expression of their Irish and Christian pride.
4. Why green? The traditional color associated with St. Patrick is actually one particular shade of blue. However, the color green has come to represent the country of Ireland because of both the landscape and the symbol of the shamrock. People now wear green all over the world to show their Irish pride on this special day.
5. Did St. Patrick really drive out all the snakes from Ireland? Legend holds that St. Patrick cast out all of the snakes on the Emerald Isle, signifying cleansing the land of paganism. There’s just one problem with this myth – Ireland never had any snakes to begin with. The water surrounding this island country is much too cold for snakes to travel in, but it does make for an interesting story!
6. St. Patrick’s Day parades are an American tradition. Hundreds of thousands of Irish people immigrated to the United States during the Great Famine of the 1840s, especially to cities like New York, Boston, Chicago and our very own Milwaukee. The tradition of these parades grew with more Irish people entering the country. Today, New York City has the largest and longest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world.
7. Irish pride was not always well accepted in America. The huge influx of Irish immigrants during the mid-1800s was met with much disdain from the already established communities. Mostly uneducated and poor, Irish immigrants could rarely find jobs due to discrimination and were often painted as drunk and violent. However, the growing number of Irish people in America soon realized that they had power in numbers and became an important influence in politics and their communities.
We love honoring our Irish heritage all year long, but St. Patrick’s Day is always a fantastic celebration. So this year on March 17, don your best green and be proud to be Irish (or Irish-at-heart)!