Parades, pints of Guinness, shamrocks and streets filled with green-clothed partygoers is what most envision when they think of St Patrick’s Day today.
Due to the influence of the Irish diaspora, St Patrick’s Day has evolved from a day of commemorating the patron saint of Ireland and enjoying a one-day hiatus over Lent, to what some perceive as a commercialised event.
What is St Patrick’s Day?
St Patrick’s Day was originally a religious celebration marking the day the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick, died.
Also known as the Feast of St Patrick, the day became an official feast day in the early 17th century and heralded the introduction of Christianity in Ireland.
Irish revelers enjoy the St Patrick’s Day parade through Belfast city centre in Northern Ireland
With Lenten restrictions being lifted for the day, the Irish paid tribute to the Saint by eating and drinking alcohol in abundance, and this has led to the tradition of drinking excessively that still lives on today.
It is for this reason that many believe the holiday is becoming commercialised and creates negative stereotypes of Irish people.
Who was St Patrick?
Although there are many myths about the Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop, much of what is known about Saint Patrick comes from a Declaration that Patrick himself wrote.
The Declaration states that Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders and was taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland at the age of sixteen.
He allegedly spent years working as a shepherd and ‘found God’ during this time. The Declaration then revealed how God had told Patrick to head to the coast where a ship would be waiting to take him back home.
Upon his return to Britain, Patrick became a priest and then went back to Ireland to convert the Irish to Christianity as the renowned legend told.
Patrick is said to have died on March 17, which is when he is celebrated to this day, but over the centuries, stories have evolved and traditions have changed.
A common legend is one where Patrick was forced to drive snakes out of Ireland, but the country has never had any snakes.
When is St Patrick’s Day 2018?
St. Patrick’s Day falls on March 17 every year but festivities occasionally continue during the following weekend.
With St Patrick’s Day being celebrated on a Saturday in 2018, parades and other events are likely to be all held on this day or across the weekend.
Thanks to the Bank Holiday Act in 1903 introduced by Irish MP James O’Mara, St Patrick’s Day became an official holiday in Ireland.
St Patrick’s Day is also a public holiday in Northern Ireland and the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat. Provincial government employees in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador are also granted a day off.
The day has become a global celebration with the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and New Zealand also joining in the annual revelry and modern celebrations have started to replace Irish traditions.
How is St Patrick’s Day celebrated?
Until the late 20th century, St Patrick’s Day was more of a celebration for the Irish diaspora than it was in Ireland.
Today, the public holiday is marked with parades and parties where people wear green clothes and participate in traditional Irish music sessions.
The tradition of putting on a parade to celebrate St Patrick’s Day started in North America in the 18th century and saw bands, public services and charity organisations get involved.
In the 1990s, the Republic of Ireland campaigned to use St Patrick’s Day as a catalyst to showcase Ireland in all its glory and the St Patrick’s Festival was created.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge glows in green at the St Patrick’s Day Parade in 2014
2018’s St Patrick’s Festival will be held between March 15 and 19 and aims to offer ‘an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal.’
St Patrick’s Day has truly become a celebration for everything Irish and the week of the event is referred to as ‘Irish language week’, where more of an effort to use the language is made and landmarks around the world have been lit up in green.
Despite Lent restrictions being lifted for the day, some Christians may go to church and then go on to drink whiskey, beer or cider in pubs.
‘Drowning the shamrock’ or ‘wetting the shamrock’ is a popular Irish tradition associated with the day. A shamrock would be put into the bottom of a cup and then filled with alcohol before it is drunk as a toast to St Patrick and Ireland.
The shamrock would be swallowed or taken out and tossed over the shoulder for good luck. St Patrick is said to have used a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the Irish.
Why do people wear green on St Patrick’s Day?
The green of the shamrock is just one reason why the Irish and others celebrating the day dress in emerald.
Since the 1600s, the Irish have worn green ribbons or shamrocks on St Patrick’s Day despite the Saint being associated with the colour blue.
People also wear green to make themselves invisible to leprechauns who would pinch anyone they could see was not wearing green.
Wearing a St Patrick’s Day Cross made of paper and covered with silk or ribbon was also a custom until the early 20th century.
When is the St Patrick’s Day parade?
While St Patrick’s Day parades started in North America, Ireland has taken on the tradition and the first parade in the Emerald Isle was held in Waterford in 1903, but the first official state-sponsored event took place in Dublin in 1931.
The Dublin St Patrick’s Day parade will take place in the city centre, starting at Parnell Square, on Saturday, March 17 from 11am GMT. The theme for the 2018 Dublin parade is Home is Where the Heart is.
In London, alongside a weekend of celebrations expected to take place in Trafalgar Square, the parade will be on March 17 and will see the floats, musicians and dancers walk from Piccadilly.
New York’s St Patrick’s Day parade will start at 11am EST at 44th Street and will head up Fifth Avenue past St Patrick’s Cathedral. It is expected to finish around 5pm at the American Irish Historical Society.
St Patrick’s traditions
In the UK, the Queen Mother was renowned for presenting bowls full of shamrocks from Ireland to members of the Irish Guards. The Irish Guards continue to wear shamrocks on St Patrick’s Day after her death.
The Cheltenham Festival, that coincides with St Patrick’s Day also attracts a lot of visitors and Birmingham is known for putting on the biggest parade in Britain.
Manchester is also known to host a two-week festival ahead of St Patrick’s Day and the celebration includes an Irish Market.
In 2017, Donald Trump and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny took part in the annual shamrock ceremony where the US President was presented with a bowl of shamrocks.
The White House have been celebrating St Patrick’s Day since the 1950s and has strengthened ties between Ireland and the US.