Most of the world has come to know and love St. Patrick's Day as an excuse to day drink and dye everything under the sun green — but the Irish holiday is actually steeped in history. So before you put on that green drinking hat, brush up on your St. Paddy's Day knowledge.
St. Patrick's Day has been celebrated by the Irish for over 1,000 years during the Lenten season. St. Patrick was not actually Irish, having been born in Roman Britain. Kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave, he is often credited for explaining the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) by using the three leaves of the shamrock.
Over a period of time, St. Patrick was largely forgotten, but after a while he became known in myths and celebrated on March 17 (when he died, in 461 A.D.) as a feast day — a time to remember and reflect on his life and attend Mass.
Even though a lot of people wear green on St. Patrick's Day, the color should actually be blue, as that is the color associated with St. Patrick. But since he preached the Trinity and the shamrock is a symbol of that, we wear green. The shamrock is not the national symbol of Ireland, though — the harp is.
A lot of people know that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland — or did he? That is mostly untrue, as Ireland never had snakes to begin with. It is often thought that the snakes represented the pagans with whom St. Patrick had some issues.
The Irish are often known for their propensity for a drink, but from 1927 to 1961, the only place to get a drink on March 17 was the Royal Dublin Dog Show — a grand occasion, except for the dogs — because of the strict laws against the sale of alcoholic beverages on religious days. Guess the church and state were concerned that there would be too much consumption of "the drink" on this holy day.
Down Cathedral in the town of Downpatrick, County Down, is the supposed resting place of St. Patrick. No one is really sure, but it's nice to have somewhere to go and visit if you so wish. While there, you can also reflect on saints Columcille and Brigit, as they are thought to rest there also.
Then we have leprechauns: Why do they hoard that pot of gold? Well, they worked hard for that gold by mending and making shoes, which is why they guard it. What they actually do with it, well, no one really knows, I guess. Did you know that there are no lady leprechauns?
Did you also know the first Irish parade in the U.S. was in 1762, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City? I didn't know that either! I did, though, know that Irish soda bread, typically served on St. Patrick's day, got its name from the use of baking soda instead of yeast.
Irish soda bread is quite easy to make, as you don't have to worry about rising the dough. Check out a few different ways you can make your own Irish soda bread.
There you have it! As they say, Éirinn go brách — Ireland forever!!
Before you go, check out our slideshow below.
Originally published March 2016. Updated March 2017.
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