In the 1970s, when I was spending my childhood in Britain, St. Patrick’s Day did not exist the way it is celebrated nowadays. Due to the conflict in Northern Ireland, the British weren’t open to any of the Irish traditions. I got the first notions of St. Patrick’s Day when I learned some stories about the US celebrations. Still, it was more Irish-American than purely Irish.
The history of St. Patrick’s Day celebration has its roots back in the 17th century. Originally, it was a religious celebration commemorating St. Patrick’s death. It is widely believed that it was St. Patrick who introduced Christianity to Ireland and thus became the national patron saint. Interestingly, already in 1631, the importance of the holiday was acclaimed by the Vatican.
By the 20th century, most Irishmen celebrated this religious holiday at home. The celebrations were not marked by any loud festivities or parades – only the Irish elite marked the holiday with a ball in Dublin Castle. Before 1904, this holiday was not even considered public.
However, starting from the beginning of the 20th century, St. Patrick’s Day started resembling a grand spectacle with numerous parades organized across Dublin, festivities in bars, music festivals, theatrical performances, and so on.
When the Civil War ended and numerous Irish immigrants arrived in the USA, the holiday gained its utmost importance. In such way, Irish Americans were looking for demonstrating their identity and national pride. The first steps of spreading the celebrations involved only those territories where the Irish lived (these were mostly the districts of New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Savannah among others).
Over the years, the tradition of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day became more and more widespread. The celebration spread also to non-Irish people and was marked on the country’s level. Besides, the holiday became true revenue to wholesalers and marketers: green garments, accessories, shamrocks, traditional food and drinks – all these things became an inseparable attribute of the celebration. March 17 became the day of cabbage and corned beef. Even McDonald’s offered a special St. Patrick’s Day menu on this day of celebrations.
The holiday has a really long history and managed to survive over the years due to the Irishmen’s devotion to their ancestry and traditions. As you see now, Americans truly become Irish for this one special day – March 17. The holiday is celebrated on the same level as Halloween or Thanksgiving. Actually, it is possible to confirm that the holiday was even Americanized: it became a true American phenomenon by having a support of Irish Americans.
So, whether you are celebrating this holiday in your country or not, just raise a glass not only to the Irish traditions but also to American support and their own interpretation of this great holiday commemorating the memory of St. Patrick.