St. Patrick’s Day is the most widely celebrated saint’s day in the world. Most of the coverage surrounding this unique holiday – at least here in the U.S. – focuses on revelers wearing green, drinking Guinness beer, eating corned beef and cabbage, and attending leprechaun-themed parades.
There are 36.5 million U.S. residents who claim Irish ancestry, which is more than eight times the population of Ireland itself (4.5 million). This festive occasion – which was originally recognized by Catholic leaders with “great solemnity” – has now become a general celebration of Irish culture and, for most people, a fun excuse to dress up and party with friends and family.
But did you know that Patrick wasn’t technically a saint (he was never canonized by the Roman Catholic Church)? He wasn’t even Irish (he was a Roman-Britain who spoke Latin and a bit of Welsh)? And – get this – Patrick’s color wasn’t green (it was – gasp – blue!)?
I’m not trying to rain on any parades here, but I do find it fascinating to explore the origins of holidays and see how the celebrations have changed over the years.
A couple of years ago, TIME Magazine did a feature called “10 Things You Didn’t Know About St. Patrick’s Day.” They take a look at some of the lesser-known facts about the world’s favorite Irish holiday, tackling everything from the shamrock to the Blarney Stone.
The History Channel also has a wealth of resources related to St. Patrick’s Day, exploring the holiday’s symbols and traditions as well as celebrations around the world.
Finally, in my brief research on St. Patrick’s Day, I came across this beautiful prayer called “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate.” There are many translations of this hymn as well as controversy regarding its origin (its Old Irish lyrics were traditionally attributed to Patrick during his Irish ministry in the 5th century, but most scholars assert that it was likely written later, in the 8th century). One verse reads:
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
Regardless of its origin and affiliation to Saint Patrick, I was blessed by the contents are hope you are as well.
In our society where everyone is itching for another reason to party, I think it can be meaningful to look beyond the surface and use each instance as an opportunity to learn and teach your kids about the history and culture behind each celebration. On that note, I hope y’all are enjoying celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and wearing your green… and maybe even acting Irish for a day!