When you think of St. Patrick’s Day, what do you think of first? The saint? Parades? Shamrock shakes?
St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) started as a religious feast day for the patron saint of Ireland and has evolved to huge secular celebrations that bring tourists – and their money – to countries around the globe. Using the Reporters’ Questions (the 5 W’s), let’s take a closer look.
What is St. Patrick’s Day? Established in 1631, it is an official Christian feast day that honors the patron saint of Ireland on his traditional death date of March 17.
Why is there a St. Patrick’s Day? It honors the arrival of Christianity into Ireland.
Where is St. Patrick’s Day celebrated? The better question might be where it is NOT celebrated! Celebrations take place all over the world, and even in unusual places like the International Space Station. Irish Central discusses where celebrations will be this year.
When did green become the adopted color? Blue was associated with St. Patrick’s, with its connections to the royal court and ancient Irish flags. When the Irish Rebellion occurred in 1798, the rebel song, “The Wearing of the Green” solidified the color’s importance to Irish history and subsequent St. Patrick’s Day observances.
And what happens if you don’t wear green? Beginning in the early 1700s, American revelers thought wearing green made you invisible to leprechauns, fairy creatures who would pinch anyone they could see. This tradition continues to this day – and helps businesses move green apparel.
Why do we eat corned beef and cabbage? Rarely eaten in Ireland, but commonplace in America, corned beef and cabbage is actually only 50% Irish. It used to be Irish bacon and cabbage, but Irish immigrants couldn’t afford the bacon, so they replaced it with corned beef. With cabbage being a spring vegetable, the famous dish was made, and millions of servings have been sold ever since.
Who was responsible for making the holiday the way it is today? Per TechTimes.com, America can take the credit (blame?) for making the day into a big annual party. Whether you think Boston held the first parade in 1737, or New York City in 1762, parades brought people together, and they grew as more Irish emigrated, especially after the Irish Potato Famine started in 1845. It sure helped that prohibitions on eating meat, drinking and dancing during Lent were lifted for the day.
Mike Cronin, professor at Boston College, wrote, “The sheer number of those claiming Irish descent in the U.S., coupled with their mobility and assisted by a network of Irish societies and the forces of Irish commerce (namely Guinness and the ubiquitous Irish bar in very town) has meant that St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have spread across the country.
St. Patrick’s Day: Economic Boom or Bust?
As Irish immigrants began to assimilate into American society, they began to secure civic jobs as well as political power. With this, the Irish were able to push their parade into civics spaces and into the streets. It was a declaration of a successful immigration and given the public nature of the parades, non-Irish were only too happy to join the spectacle. The commodifying of St. Patrick’s Day soon took off in the 1920s, and an economic machine was born.
With drinking having become one, if not the most important, part of the day, companies such as Guinness, Heineken, and Budweiser have been major sponsors. If you want to get in on the game, sponsor this year’s parade in New York City. It is estimated that TV viewership alone, is over five million people.
Major cities have also pursued the commercial potential by promoting tourism in their communities, and highlighting their festivities. While expenses to police the event are expensive, the return of investment for these communities have helped bring much needed tourist dollars to the local economy.
After seeing the commercial success in America, Ireland has embraced the American way of celebrating the holiday as a way to grow their economy. Their Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not mince words in 2016: The focus on Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day gives us a valuable opportunity to show the world that Ireland is open for business….and deliver the message that Ireland is on the road to economic recovery.
While the religious message has faded over time, St. Patrick’s Day has become all Americans are Irish for a day, and like July 4th, is a bona fide American phenomenon. That is something worth raising a glass over.
To learn more about St. Patrick’s Day, visit these sites:
- History.com provides a comprehensive site, which includes 15 videos, on all things St. Patrick’s Day.
- Time.com presents the true history behind St. Patrick’s Day.
- Learn how America invented the St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
- Want to go to some of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the United States? Visit Savannah, GA, New York City, Boston and (where this author is from) Chicago.
- In this 2016 article, WalletHub.com ask academics from places like University of Kansas, Boston College and UC-Santa Barbara share their insights on why the day is so popular in the U.S., whether the celebrations are boons or busts for a community and what social considerations cities should keep in mind if they decide to host a parade.
- Why we do the things that we do on St. Patrick’s Day is explained on CSMonitor.com.
- Erin Go Bragh!