17 March 2011

Thursday Thirteen: Thirteen Fun Facts About St. Patrick's Day

Since everybody’s Irish today, I’m honoring the occasion with a Thursday Thirteen of St. Patrick’s Day facts. Enjoy!

1. St. Patrick, the saint credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland, lived between 387-461.

2. At sixteen, he was captured by pirates and lived more than six years as a slave, probably on Ireland’s west coast. He didn’t become a priest until after he escaped, and didn’t return to Ireland as a missionary until he was around forty-five.

3. Two of his letters survive. The first is exhorts a British chieftain named Coroticus to free some Irish Christians he’d taken as slaves. The second is apparently a deposition from the court case that followed. In it, he defended himself from numerous charges of wrongdoing, including accepting money from women.

4. Legend credits St. Patrick with chasing the snakes out of Ireland, but the snakes actually left much earlier, prior to the end of the last ice age. Modern scholars believe this anecdote may relate to serpent symbolism used by the Irish druids or as an insulting reference to 5th century heretics known as Pelagians.

5. The Irish began celebrating March 17, the traditional date of St. Patrick’s death, as a kind of national pride day in the Middle Ages, but it didn’t become an official Catholic feast day until the early 17th century. The man responsible was Franciscan friar and historian Luke Wadding, an Irish expatriate then living in Rome.

6. The legend that St. Patrick used the shamrock, a three-leafed clover, to teach the Irish about the Holy Trinity isn’t recorded until 1726, although people were wearing the shamrock in his honor as early as the 17th century.

7. Originally, sky blue, not green, was the color most associated with the saint. The connection derived from the Flaitheas √Čireann, the sovereignty of Ireland, who is depicted as a woman wearing a sky blue robe. Today, there are several shades referred to as St. Patrick’s blue, including the light sky blue found on the ribbon of the Order of St. Patrick, the royal blue found in the royal standards of the United Kingdom and the president of Ireland, and a dark navy used for the Irish president’s state car.

8. Irish rebels in the 1798 Rebellion against English occupation and repression wore green uniforms to distance themselves as far as possible from the hated redcoats of the English Army. However, “The Wearing of the Green” (as memorialized in the anonymous 1798 ballad of the same name) actually refers to wearing a shamrock in one’s hat or on one’s clothing.

9. The first recorded St. Patrick’s Day parade, ever, was held in Boston in 1737. It was a protest march. The local Irish community was unhappy with its low status and lack of job opportunities. This set the tone for St. Patrick Day parades in the American colonies and new United States until the 19th century.

10. Corned beef and cabbage is an American invention, too. The traditional Irish boiled dinner combination was pork shoulder or ham and cabbage. Beef was a luxury item reserved for Ireland’s English overlords. The situation was reversed in New York and Boston, where Irish immigrants found it difficult to purchase the right cuts of pork. Fortunately, local Jewish butchers turned them on to kosher cured brisket, and an American St. Patrick’s Day classic was born.

11. Montreal holds the honor of the longest, continuously running St. Patrick’s Day Parade. They’ve been marching in the saint’s honor every year since 1824.

12. St. Patrick’s Day didn’t become an official public holiday in Ireland until 1903. Today it’s celebrated as a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Montserrat in the Lesser Antilles, where it also commemorates a failed slave uprising on March 17, 1768.

13. As if to prove everybody’s Irish on March 17, Seoul, South Korea, has celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a parade and festival since 2001. Japan began honoring the occasion in 1992. Normally, the Japanese hold St. Patrick’s Day parades in nine different locations. Here's hoping they can return to celebrating the date very soon.

Jean Marie
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