Mar 16, 2015

St. Patrick's Day Traditions

Though most of the country (especially CHICAGO!) celebrated St. Patrick's Day this past Saturday, the day isn't officially until tomorrow, March 17th, the presumed day of St. Patrick's death.  This day is very important in Chicago, and other cities with lots of Irish Catholics.  I thought it would be interesting to research more about why this day is so popular, especially since I am ~25% Irish on my dad's side of the family + I went to Notre Dame and Catholic school most of my life, so I know a LOT of Irish Catholics.

While the Irish had been celebrating it as a holy feast day, St. Patrick's Day didn't really become a big deal until Irish Catholics started immigrating to the United States in the 1700s.  When these immigrants started joining the military they decided that they wanted to start throwing their own parades to celebrate their Irish heritage, and what better way than to do this for St. Patrick's Day?  Irish immigrants were persecuted for their Catholic beliefs and Irish traditions, but they were still proud of where they came from, and I think I can say they had the last laugh, since you don't see many people in Chicago NOT wearing green on St. Paddy's Day.

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I was most interested in why drinking (whiskey, green beer, Guinness, etc.) had become so ingrained in the St. Patrick's Day tradition.  Of course there is an old Irish legend, Pota Padraigh (Patrick's Pot), about this:

At his local pub, St. Patrick got stiffed on a shot of whiskey--it was not as full as it should have been.  To teach to the barkeep a lesson, he told him that there was a demon living in the pub's basement.  This demon fed on the barkeep's dishonesty and selfishness and that it could only be banished if the barkeep changed his ways and started being more generous and truthful.  When St. Patrick next visited the pub, the barkeep asked him if he could check on the demon (presumably after pouring him a tall shot of whiskey).  St. Patrick checked the basement and told the barkeep that the demon was starving (since it hadn't been able to feed on dishonesty) and that he would banish it for him.  After that St. Patrick said that everyone should have a drop of "the hard stuff" on his feast day.
 The tradition of green beer actually started in the United States in the early 1900s, when bartenders realized it was pretty easy (green food coloring!) to serve green beer to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.  That idea caught on, and you can find green beer at pretty much every bar now during the week surrounding March 17th.  They even serve green beer in Ireland now too!

So while the majority of Chicago's Irish celebrations may be over (the city parade, the Southside Irish parade, the dyeing of the river, all around day drinking), be sure to have a shot of whiskey or pint of beer tomorrow for St. Patrick.

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