Today, the whole world appears to be green as we celebrate the national saint’s day of a small rainy island 4,000 miles away.
I have written before about the strong ties between Savannah and the Irish diaspora — the term referring to the scattering of people and culture that were formerly concentrated in one place. I thought I would add to today’s festivities by exploring the legend of St. Patrick and the traditions around this annual celebration.
St. Patrick reportedly died on March 17, 493 A.D. This date was named as his saint’s day and became a traditional Catholic holiday because he is said to have brought Christianity from Britain to Ireland more than 1,500 years ago.
He had been a slave in Ireland and bravely returned to convert the pagan Celts, cleverly using powerful pagan symbols and adapting them to represent Christian beliefs. For example, he used native grown shamrock — a three-leaf clover — to represent the Holy Trinity. Even today, many cultures consider the shamrock to be lucky.
In another example, as legend goes, he was preaching near a pagan stone carved with a circle to symbolize the sun or moon gods. By drawing a Christian cross through the middle, he converted it to what became the Celtic cross.
Of course, St. Patrick is most famous for driving all the snakes of Ireland into the sea where they drowned (I wish someone would do that here in coastal Georgia). Snakes were sacred to the pagan Druids, so this symbolic legend has a clear message of banishing the pagan gods. In fact, scientists say it is unlikely that there were ever any snakes in Ireland in the first place. There is more information at www.history.com.
St. Patrick’s Day was initially a minor holiday in Ireland, and in the 18th century became popular among Irish-Americans celebrating their heritage and arranging parades in Boston and New York. It was only in the 1970s that the holiday grew in popularity in Dublin and other Irish towns. Today, it is an extended celebration of all things Irish, both back home and abroad.
A few other interesting facts:
• Green became used as a symbol for Ireland. The country itself became known as the Emerald Isle because the plentiful rain and mist leads to a lovely, if permanently damp, landscape. Wearing green is considered an act of paying tribute to Ireland and is believed to bring good luck, especially when worn on St. Patrick’s Day. There is a tradition of pinching people who forget to wear green today, so watch out.
• The name “leprechaun” comes from the old Irish word “luchorpan,” which means “little body” and is used to describe a small Irish fairy. These fairies are not friendly and often make shoes as well as hiding a pot of gold. If you catch a leprechaun, remember it is vital to keep looking in his eyes or he will escape and take the treasure with him.
• According to Diageo, the company that brews Guinness, 13 million glasses of this dark craft beer will be drunk across the world on St. Patrick’s Day. Cheers — or in Irish, Sláinte.
I leave you with a traditional Irish blessing: “May the Irish hills caress you, may her lakes and rivers bless you, may the luck of the Irish enfold you, and may the blessings of St. Patrick behold you.”
Happy St. Patrick’s Day and God bless America.
Contact Francis at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.