I came across an interesting article in the Huffington Post (which they filched from Catholic Online and the History website) yesterday, and it shook my consciousness from the grown-out roots of my hair to the unpainted tips of my toenails. You must understand – my heritage is English-Scots-Irish, and the writer said that everything I’ve been told about St. Patrick’s Day (which was not much) is wrong.
Permit me to share these nine fallacies with you.
1) St. Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was born in 385 A.D. to Roman citizens living in what is now England, Scotland, or Wales. That’s fine. Since I’m a mongrel, I’m all of the above except Welsh.
2) St. Patrick’s color is actually blue, not green. The saint is shown wearing blue vestments in several works of art. King Henry VIII chose an Irish harp in gold on a blue flag to represent Ireland. Since that time, blue has been a popular color to represent the country on flags, coats-of-arms, and even sports jerseys. The Blue Man Group is appropriately dressed for St. Patrick’s Day, but leprechauns are not.
3) St. Patrick’s Day was instituted in America. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place not in Dublin but in New York City, in 1762. Over the next 100 years, Irish Catholics moved in large numbers to American shores. They suffered fierce discrimination, so they began to organize politically to combat the prejudice. By the end of that century, St. Patrick’s Day was ingrained in United States culture to celebrate Irish heritage. We celebrate our guilt regularly in this country.
4) March 17 is the date St. Patrick died in 461 A.D. St. Patrick’s Day is connected to his death, not his life.
5) St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach about the mystery of the Holy Trinity (three leaves, one plant), not good luck or hope. As he was captured at 16 by Irish raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland, I doubt that he felt very lucky. Fortunately for him, he escaped when he was 22 and went into a monastery in England. By the way, start early today if you want to find a four-leaf clover. Your odds aren’t great – about 1 in 10,000.
6) St. Patrick likely did not drive all the snakes out of Ireland, because snakes were most probably never there. The climate is not snake-friendly, and the country is surrounded by water. Scholars think that the “snakes” or “toads” he eliminated were pagan beliefs. He brought Christianity to Ireland, but he had nothing to do with ridding the island of snakes. Odd that we celebrate his mission by drinking ourselves into oblivion. I don’t think he would have approved.
7) And on that note, I’ll add that St. Patrick’s Day was a dry holiday in Ireland until 1970. It was a day for religious observance. I suppose that in 1970, pub owners noticed the big money the florists were raking in on St. Valentine’s Day and decided that green beer was a great idea. The politicians reclassified the holiday as a national holiday, and presto! The taps were opened.
8) There are more people of Irish ancestry in the United States (about 34 million) than there are in Ireland (4.2 million). Gayle and I are two of the 34 million.
9) Corned beef and cabbage are not Irish. Nope. Let me just pop that bubble for you. Your dinner tonight should be pork (preferably bacon) and potatoes. The corned beef and cabbage likely became a tradition when the working class Irish immigrants in New York frequented the Jewish delis and discovered that corned beef was delicious, as well as much cheaper than pork.
I’m going to wear blue and green today (my green Irish T shirt with jeans), which is appropriate. If I wear only blue, I chance being pinched repeatedly, and I bruise easily. I’ll wear my mixed colors to avoid the black-and-blue bruises – so unattractive, and the wrong colors. I suppose once the bruises began to fade, they’d be the right colors, but by then, St. Patrick’s Day will be long gone. Oh, the humanity!