Top o’ the mornin’ to you all!
Every year on March 17, the world gets a little greener. No, it’s not Earth Hour (that’s not until March 26th), it’s St. Patrick’s Day of course! It seems that today, St. Paddy’s is a cause for celebration for everyone, no matter heritage or cultural background. This is great, because the more joining in the fun and festivities the merrier, but it also slightly disguises the meaning behind the holiday. Actually, there are quite a few interesting little-known facts about St. Patrick, the traditions, and the symbols associated with the holiday that will add an extra kick of fun to any family St. Paddy’s shindig.
The namesake of this holiday is one of the most commonly recognised of the patron saints of Ireland. Not much is known about his early life, only that he was born into a wealthy family in Roman Britain during the 4th century, and at sixteen he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken back to Ireland as a slave. Legend has it that God visited him in a dream, telling him to flee to the coast where he would find a ship that would bring him back to Britain, which he did and became a Catholic priest upon his return. In 432, God called to him again and told him to bring his teachings to Ireland. After thirty years there, he died on March 17, 461, and remains the most admired figure in the Irish Catholic Church. Fun family idea: Write a storybook about the exciting life of Saint Patrick, using your imagination to fill in the sections that history can’t provide.
Also called a “seamroy,” the green leafy plant was sacred in Ireland, marking the rebirth of Spring. But as the English began taking over Ireland and enforcing strict language and religious laws, the shamrock became a symbol for national pride for the Irish people, who would wear it on their clothes in opposition to English rule. Blue was originally the colour associated with St. Patrick’s Day, but as the shamrock grew in significance, more and more people began wearing green ribbons to celebrate instead. Fun family idea: Make a giant shamrock and pass it around the dinner table before you start to eat. Whoever is holding the shamrock can stand up and state loudly whatever it is that they’re proud of.
Much like the shamrock, traditional music was used by the Irish to celebrate their heritage and language during the English rule. It worked so well that Queen Elizabeth even outlawed Irish music, and put musicians and pipers in deep, deep trouble. Today, traditional Irish bands have achieved worldwide acclaim and popularity, still using centuries-old instruments like the fiddle, the uilleann pipes, and the tin whistle. Fun family idea: Play musical chairs with a St. Patrick’s Day twist! The family dances around the chairs while an Irish music album plays, but as soon as someone stops the music in fear of getting caught, the rest have to quickly find a seat and pretend everything is normal!
The original Irish name for the leprechaun is “lobaircin,” which means “small-bodied fellow.” But the leprechaun, however popular in Irish history, has no real connection to St. Patrick’s Day. Today’s common representation of a cheerful, jolly leprechaun and symbol of St. Patrick’s Day is purely an American concoction, started by a Walt Disney movie in 1959. Traditionally, they’re the small, cranky, and scheming clan of the Celtic fairies, whose job it was to repair the shoes of the other fairies. Folklore has it that a leprechaun has a pot of gold hidden in a secret location which they could be forced to reveal if they were ever caught. However, the treasure’s eyes ever left the leprechaun, they would disappear in an instant and the possibility of finding their gold would be lost. Fun family idea: Stage your own leprechaun hunt. Leave cryptic clues (which could be on the back of cut-out rainbows, for extra whimsy) around the house to lead the kids to find the secret location of the leprechaun and his gold coins (chocolate coins if you’re feeling generous!).
There are several foods vital to any St. Patrick’s Day celebration: cabbage, potatoes, soda bread, stew, and shortbread cookies to name a few(not to mention a cold Irish stout). But perhaps most common is a main dish of corned beef, considered an essential traditional Irish meal. But in reality, the traditional meal was Irish bacon (otherwise known as “Canadian” or “back” bacon). Corned beef became the norm when Irish immigrants living on New York City’s Lower East Side could no longer afford the more expensive customary meat. Fun family idea: This one’s easy – pick a recipe and make preparing a traditional Irish meal a family task. If corned beef, cabbage, or bacon doesn’t suit your family’s taste, make substitutions or add an Irish flare to another meal by adding green food colouring when possible.
More Fun Facts about St. Patrick’s Day
- Last year, over 1 million people took part in St. Patrick’s Day Festival in Dublin
- Every year since 1962, the city of Chicago uses 40 pounds of dye to turn their river green on St. Patrick’s Day, enough to last a few hours
- Over 100 St. Patrick’s Day parades are held across the United States every year
- There are approximately 36.5 million U.S. residents who claim Irish ancestry. This number is more than eight times the population of Ireland itself (4.5 million).
- In 2009, roughly 26.1 billion pounds of beef and 2.3 billion pounds of cabbage were produced in the United States.
- The first St. Patrick’s Day in Canada is believed to have taken place in Quebec City in 1765.
What are your favourite St. Patrick’s Day traditions? What does the holiday mean to you and your family? Tell us in the comment section below.