St Patrick’s Day Traditions
St Patrick’s Day Traditions. Few holidays have transformed quite like St. Patrick’s Day. It began in Ireland as a way to honor the country’s patron saint, but through both immigration and secularization, it has now become a worldwide day to pay tribute to all things Irish. The date, March 17, is one of the few constants over the years.
The Luck of a Shamrock
The shamrock has long been a piece of Irish iconography because it symbolizes “the rebirth of spring.” According to Time, shamrocks are a trefoil plant and were worn by poorer Irish citizens to church ceremonies on St. Patrick’s Day in order to look nice. Irish immigrants who moved to America in the 1700s brought the symbol and image of the shamrock stateside as a way of paying tribute to their heritage.
It has a deeper significance as it relates to St. Patrick’s Day, too, since St. Patrick himself is said to have used the shamrock’s three leaves to explain the Christian concept of the holy trinity. One of the signatures St. Patrick’s Day dishes is corned beef and cabbage, a staple of any good holiday feast. Although, as Smithsonian Magazine notes, it’s actually an Irish-American meal that is not nearly as popular in Ireland. Many Irish immigrants in the U.S. got their meat from kosher butchers—who were often their neighbors in densely populated urban areas—and so it’s more accurately described as “Jewish corned beef thrown into a pot with cabbage and potatoes.”
Popular St Patrik Day Feasts
Smithsonian reports that in Ireland, the more traditional St. Patrick’s Day dish is often lamb or bacon. Irish soda bread is another food with surprising origins. It was apparently pioneered by Indigenous Americans, who used pearl ash in lieu of yeast but became popular in Ireland in the mid-1800s.
At the time, the country’s financial struggles made it necessary to make something filling, simple, and inexpensive. Beyond those two, expect your St. Patrick’s Day plate to contain some shepherd’s pie, colcannon (mashed potatoes and cabbage), and lots of things that are dyed an especially verdant shade of green.
A “céilí” is an Irish social gathering usually centered around dancing to traditional Irish music. Ireland has its share of musical instruments that get the chance to shine during St. Patrick’s Day performances. These include the bodhrán, a special drum, the Celtic harp, the fiddle, and uilleann pipes, which are played similarly to Scottish bagpipes but are softer in tone.
Irish cultural groups in the U.S. also organize céilís and teach the specific form of Gaelic dance that usually accompanies the folk music. These gatherings are not limited solely to St. Patrick’s Day but are a common way to celebrate Irish culture on the holiday itself. More modern pop music from the Irish diaspora is typically played during secular St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in many cities. This often includes the work of influential acts like the folk group The Dubliners, superstar rock band U2, and influential punk act The Pogues. And if you’re anywhere in the northeast you can bet you’ll hear “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys.
Beware of pinchers in your midst.
One peculiar bit of St. Patrick’s Day lore involves the pinching of people who don’t have any green garments on. Per the Independent, this “dubious legend” comes from the idea that only those wearing the holiday’s signature color are invisible to the mischievous fingers of leprechauns, who enjoy pinching and playing pranks.
The Famous Pint of Beer
It’s a good thing to be aware of if you’re going to be out with a crowd on St. Patrick’s Day, but we think it’s probably best to keep your fingers to yourself. Inexpensive beer in the U.S. is often dyed green for the holiday, which Vox traced all the way back to the year 1910. It ballooned in popularity during the ’50s and is now common for bars that cater to St. Paddy’s day revelers.
For obvious reasons, Irish varieties of beer are favorites on the holiday. Guinness told USA Today that roughly 3 million pints of it are drunk on the holiday, up from 600,000 on a normal day. Though beer is quite popular, there are many other beverage options, including cocktails using whiskey and Bailey’s, as well as non-alcoholic choices like Shamrock Shakes.
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