St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated annually on March 17, is a holiday rich in symbols, many with Irish and Celtic themes. Ever wondered about those particular symbols, their origins, and how they were chosen? Let’s find out with …
5 St. Patrick’s Day Symbols and What They Mean
1. The Shamrock
The ancient Celts revered the shamrock as a sacred symbol of spring. Fast forward a few centuries to the 18th century, when Ireland was ruled by the English. At this time, with speaking the Irish language and the practice of Catholicism forbidden by law, Irish nationalism was beginning to make itself known. The shamrock was adopted by proud Irish nationalists as a symbol of their heritage.
2. The Leprechaun
The leprechaun of Celtic folklore – the “lobaircin” or small-bodied fellows who were cranky and liked to play tricks – did not become associated with St. Patrick’s Day until after 1959. Why did it take so long? St. Patrick’s Day was considered a religious holiday until fairly recently. But in 1959, Walt Disney Productions released the film Darby O’Gill and the Little People, which introduced many Americans to the notion of a good humored, friendly, luck-giving little fellow who subsequently became part of St. Patrick’s Day lore in the U.S.
3. The Color Green
Again, we go back to the turbulent 18th century. The color originally associated with St. Patrick was blue, but when Irish patriots adopted the shamrock as a symbol, the color green came along with it. Green ribbons began to be worn to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as early as the 17th century. In fact, “The Wearing of the Green” – taken from a song with the same title – came to mean wearing a shamrock on one’s clothing in support of Irish nationalism. During the United Irish Rebellion of 1798, Irish soldiers wore green uniforms to draw attention to their cause.
4. Corned Beef and Cabbage
Today a traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal served by Irish-American families and others, in fact the pairing corned beef and cabbage is not native cuisine to Ireland. The practice came about in the 19th century, when impoverished Irish immigrants living in New York City’s Lower East Side could not afford Irish bacon for the dish, and substituted cheaper corned beef (supplied by neighboring kosher butchers) instead.
5. St. Patrick’s Day Parades
Now a tradition in many American cities, when and why did St. Patrick’s Day come to be celebrated with parades? Reliable historical evidence is scarce before the 18th century. However, we do know that officers from primarily Irish infantry regiments of the British Army stationed in New York City – the 16th and 47th Regiment of Foot – formed The Society of the Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick. On March 17, 1762, soldiers from these regiments, joined by Irish immigrant civilians, marched in a parade and celebrated with music.
As for the green beer? We’ll leave that one up to you.
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