St Patrick's Day is the perfect excuse for anyone with links to the Emerald Isle to have a bit of a hooley.
Not everyone looks upon this favourably, mind you. My Irish friends look with disdain at the green-clad hordes flowing out of the Irish pubs in our town, every 17 March. "It's not authentic. It's just for tourists", they sniff.
Whatever your thoughts on the matter, there's no denying that a lot of people have a lot of fun paying tribute to St Patrick. But who was he anyway, and why is he so revered, to this day?
Patrick's early life is shrouded in uncertainty, but he is believed to have been born in Britain in the early 5th century, towards the end of the Roman era. Son of a wealthy Christian family, he was kidnapped as a young man by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland, where he was sold into slavery. During this time, Patrick turned to religion and prayer. He eventually escaped after a dream in which he was told that God was calling him back to Britain.
Mission to Ireland
After returning home, Patrick continued to study Christianity and was ordained as a priest. He was later sent back to Ireland as a missionary, and is credited with converting Ireland to Christianity - quite a feat for a foreigner who was not always trusted nor welcomed by the communities he visited. He established many monasteries, churches, and schools throughout the country.
The tradition of the shamrock
Patrick is also credited with the tradition of using three-leafed shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the Irish people, which is why the shamrock is a symbol of St. Patrick's Day. I grew up in a Catholic Irish community in northern England, and I certainly remember being taught this same lesson at school. Pupils even came to school with little sprigs of shamrock pinned to their blazers, on 17 March. I always coveted these and never did find out where to obtain one!
Patrick is considered to be one of the major patron saints of Ireland, even though he was never formally canonized. His feast day, 17th March, is believed to be the day of his death.
St Patrick's Day
Over time, this feast has evolved into a day of secular celebration as well as a religious one. Originally celebrated within the Catholic Church, St Patrick's Day was later adopted by the Church of Ireland and became a national holiday. In the early years of St. Patrick's Day celebrations, the Irish would attend mass and then gather with friends and family for a meal, but as the years went by, the celebrations became more elaborate and included parades, feasts, and dancing.
The tradition began to spread to other countries as Irish immigrants moved abroad in their great diaspora. In the United States, the first St. Patrick's Day parade was held in New York City in 1762, and it has been held every year since. Today, St. Patrick's Day parades are held in cities all over the world, and they typically feature green-clad revelers, marching bands, and floats. The parades are a celebration of Irish culture and heritage, and they are a way for people of Irish descent to connect with their roots.
Saints and sinners
The association between St. Patrick's Day and partying has grown over the years. Many people celebrate St. Patrick's Day by wearing green, which is said to symbolize the hope and renewal of spring. Others attend parades, which are often followed by pub crawls and other festivities. The day is also marked by feasting, with traditional Irish foods such as corned beef and cabbage, shepherd's pie, and Irish stew being served.
Needless to say, alcohol has also become a major part of the celebrations. Drinking has been a part of Irish culture for centuries, and St. Patrick's Day is no exception. Ironically, for a feast with its origins in religion, it has become a day to party with irreverence, humor and many a beverage. Whatever would Patrick think?
During February and early March, we'll be celebrating all things Irish on our social channels - music, literature and humor included.
For anyone who likes to give a gift to their Irish loved ones, we have placed a few ideas on the front page of our store. Examples include a beautiful green onyx jewelry set and an emerald kitty cat necklace, along with some of our message card jewelry specially made for the occasion.