What's on Tap

What's on Tap

6 essential St. Patrick's Day traditions, myths and more

Posted March 14

— Who was Saint Patrick? Why do people wear green on St. Patrick's Day, and who decided pinching was the appropriate reaction if you aren't?

Many St. Patrick's Day traditions are rooted in history, while others have evolved over time. We decided to break down the traditions, myths and other lore associated with the holiday.

Who was Saint Patrick?

Every March 17, we celebrate St. Patrick's Day. But who was he and why did he get an entire holiday named after him?

Patrick was born in 387 in a British village. He was born to into a wealthy Christian family. Despite his family's devout faith, Patrick didn't get involved in Christianity. At around 16 years old, Irish raiders kidnapped him and brought him to Ireland, where he spent years working as a slave. Patrick tended and herded sheep for years. In his memoir, Patrick wrote that he turned to God to get through the ordeal. After six years in captivity, Patrick said he heard the voice of God tell him to walk 200 miles to the Irish coast. He escaped and walked 200 miles to the coast where he found a ship that eventually took him back home.

Patrick might have left Ireland, but his connection to the people never faded. He said an angel spoke to him in a dream telling him to go back there and become a missionary in the mostly Pagan country. He became ordained and many years later traveled back to Ireland.

Patrick is said to have arrived in Ireland in 433 and started working first to convert chiefs of druid tribes.

There is a legend that he one of the chiefs tried to kill Patrick. After an intervention from God, Patrick converted the chief.

Patrick traveled the country for 40 years converting Ireland to Christianity. He reportedly died in Saul, where he had built his first church in Ireland, on March 17, 461. He is believed to be buried in Down Cathedral in Downpatrick.

Saint Patrick is known as the patron saint of Ireland and a feast and celebration is held every March 17 to celebrate him. For many years, it was only celebrated in Ireland.

In the 1700s, the Irish immigrants held the first Irish parade in New York City.

Myths

One of the most popular myths involving Saint Patrick was that he drove the snakes of Ireland into the sea. He was said to have chased them to the see after they attacked him amid a 40-day fast he was doing on top of a hill.

It is a fascinating story, but not true.

Nigel Monaghan, keeper of natural history at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, told National Geographic that Patrick had nothing to do with there being no snakes in Ireland.

Scientists believe snakes never reached Ireland due to the Ice Age, which make the island too cold for reptiles, according to National Geographic.

Scholars have said the story is an allegory withe serpents being symbols of evil and linked to heathen practices. So, Patrick banishing the snakes could really just mean he was banishing "evil" from the area.

St Patricks Day Parade

Shamrocks

The legend goes that Patrick used shamrocks or three-leaf clovers to help him explain the Holy Trinity to people. He would point to the leaves and identify each as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But there is absolutely no evidence he did actually that.

What we do know is that the shamrock is the official symbol for Ireland. It became such a sacred plant there because it symbolized spring, according to History.com. In the 17th century, the shamrock became a symbol of Irish nationalism, with many Irish folks wearing the shamrock as a symbol of pride and as a way to take a stand against the English seizing Irish land and making laws.

St. Patrick's Day celebrations

Why do people wear green?

Green is one of the colors in Ireland's flag and the country is known as the "Emerald Isle." Also, green is the color of the shamrock. According to Christian Science Monitor, the first color associated with St. Patrick's Day was blue, but it changed to green in the 17th century.

And why do you get pinched if you aren't wearing green?

The tradition was reportedly started by Americans likely in the early 1700s. Revelers apparently thought that if you wore green you would be invisible to leprechauns, which would pinch anyone not wearing green. People started pinching those without green on him as a reminder about the leprechauns.

Lucky Charms cereal box

Leprechauns

And since we just mentioned leprechauns, these mythical creatues first came to light in Irish folklore as far back as the 13th century. They started out as shoemakers, acording to Irish Central.com. Some Irish legends say if you find a one of this tricky creaturs, you can barter his freedom for three wishes.

Corned beef and cabbage

Corned beef and cabbage is a popular Irish meal, but only half of it is considered Irish. Cabbage is a staple of the Irish diet, but it is traditionally eaten with Irish bacon, according to Christian Science Monitor. The tradition of corned beef started in America when Irish immigrants couldn't afford bacon and corned beef was a cheaper alternative.

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