St. Patrick's Day is one of many ethnic holidays celebrated in
America. It is the most widely recognized of all the ethnic
celebrations. This is fitting as about 30 million Americans
identify themselves as being Irish. That is 10 times the population of
The person who was to become St. Patrick, the
patron saint of Ireland, was born in Wales about
AD 385. His given name was Maewyn, and he
almost didn't get the job of Bishop of Ireland
because he lacked the required scholarship.
Far from being a saint, until he was 16, he
considered himself a pagan. At that age, he was
sold into slavery by a group of Irish marauders that raided his village. During his captivity, he became closer to God.
He escaped from slavery after six years and went to Gaul where he studied in the monastery under St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre for a period of twelve years. During his training he became aware that his calling was to convert the pagans to Christianity.
His wishes were to return to Ireland, to convert the pagans that had overrun the country. But his superiors instead appointed St. Palladius. But two years later, Palladius transferred to Scotland.
Patrick, having adopted that Christian name earlier, was then appointed as second bishop to Ireland.
Patrick was quite successful at winning converts.
And this fact upset the Celtic Druids. Patrick was
arrested several times, but escaped each time.
He traveled throughout Ireland, establishing
monasteries across the country. He also set up
schools and churches which would aid him in his
conversion of the Irish country to Christianity.
Patrick's mission in Ireland lasted for thirty years. After
that time, Patrick retired to County Down. He died on March 17 in AD 461. That day
has been commemorated as St. Patrick's Day ever since.
Much Irish folklore surrounds St. Patrick's Day. Not much of it is actually
substantiated. Some of this lore includes the belief that Patrick
raised people from the dead. He also is said to
have given a sermon from a hilltop that drove all
the snakes from Ireland. Though originally a
Catholic holy day, St. Patrick's Day has evolved
into more of a secular holiday.
One traditional icon of the day is the shamrock.
And this stems from a more bona fide Irish tale
that tells how Patrick used the three-leafed
shamrock to explain the Trinity. He used it in his
sermons to represent how the Father, the Son,
and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate
elements of the same entity. His followers
adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock on
his feast day.
The St. Patrick's Day custom came to America in 1737. That was the first year St. Patrick's Day was publicly celebrated in this country, in Boston. St. Patrick's Day became in America one of the most rolicking holidays celebrated in America. The centerpiece of St. Patrick's Day has always been a massice parade with politicans, civic and church leaders, highschool bands, pipe pands, policevand firevman's franternal orders, step dancers, and much more. For too many,however, St. Patrick's Day was an excuse for a druken binge.
Many St Partick's Day cards have cute little themes of lepercauns and four leaf clovers. But there are some terrible cards. Hallmark has some pretty gross cards out now , about drinking and worse. Irish are shown as pathetic drunks. Idiots who drink all the time.
Very sad to see, no other culture is mocked like this by the card companies. I noticed other cultures are treated very respectfully on their religious and other holidays. Marcel Schurman Co has some pretty hateful ones out mocking Irish dancing. Take a look at the Hallmark "shoebox" cards.
Things are improving, though, thanks to Riverdance, and the popular interest in Irish culture (e.g., Meryl Streep starring in Dancing at Lunasa), etc. But Irish Americans certainly have a ways to go--I just checked out Hallmark's e-cards, one of which has three cows drinking green beer, swaying and singing "Moo-ra-Loo-ra-Loo-ra, Moo-ra-Loo-ra-Li.." to the tune of "when Irish eyes aresmiling." Even the bumper sticker for Milwaukee Irish Fest has a caricature
of a leprechaun, wearing a green pilgrim hat over pointy ears, a full red Amish-like beard, smoking a long-stem pipe, and beaming with a wide grin.
Unlike Scottish celebrations, boys do not normally dress up in kilts for
St. Patrick's Day. Many boys participating in
pipe bands and
Irish dancing, however, do wear their kilts
to participate in the parades. Notably the boys commonly wear the kilt pipe band uniforms. Many boys involved in Irish dancing, however, are a little shy about wearing their
kilts in the St. Partrick's Day parades. Most of the parade participants
are the girl dancers.
The Irish are one of the most important ethnic groups that have made modern in America. More than 40 million Americans identify as being Irish Americans, more than one out of every 10 Americans. The immigrants, like each successive immigrant group, did not have an easy time of it. But the Irish have succeded, reaching the Presidency and the Supreme Court. Irish Americans from the beginning looked back at their misty, green island. Ethnic frstivals, music and dance are emensly popular. Like Scotland, the kilt is seen as ethnic folk dress and is worn by Irish pipe bands and step dancers.
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