St.Patrick’s Day: It’s not just about green beer

While the luck of the Irish may be bestowed upon all of us March 17 — with parades, shamrocks, green beer and plucky Irish quotes — a review of its history offers the reasons for this season.

First of all, March 17 is not Saint Patrick’s birthday. March 17 is said to be the day he died, which may have explained why it was originally celebrated in Ireland as a dry, religious holiday when all the pubs closed.

Also, St. Patrick was British, not Irish. The original name for the venerable St. Patrick was Maewyn Succat when he was born around 400 A.D. on his father’s British estate. He was kidnapped at 16 and enslaved in Ireland until he escaped to a French monastery a few years later. It was there he became a Christian, but did not take on the name Patrick until named a bishop.

Ironically, St. Patrick was never declared a saint by the Catholic church because in the first millennium, there was no formal process. His sainthood is by popular acclaim because of his spreading of Christianity across Ireland. He also probably did not wear green, since blue is the color of Ireland and the color of green is considered unlucky.

So, why green for an Irish celebration? Historically, green is the color linked to a series of Irish rebellions that took place beginning in the 17th century in order to gain independence from the English crown. Among those who fled Ireland during their long struggle against British dominance were many of those rebellious people who got out when the going got too hot.

Once settled in the United States, the Irish immigrants began wearing green and carrying the Irish flag to show their pride for their home country.

The feelings were so strong in a predominately Irish neighborhood in Syracuse, New York, that in 1928, the city finally agreed to hang the world’s only upside-down traffic light in the neighborhood. This was because the light was continually damaged by rocks and other projectiles, which the locals called Irish confetti. The reason? These folks could not stand to see the green light below the red light, the latter color symbolizing those pesky British redcoats. The upside down traffic light is still there as part of some sightseeing tours.

As to green beer, it may come as no surprise that St. Patrick’s Day is the third most popular drinking day in America. But how and why did they make the beer green?

According to the website Flavorman, rumor has it the first green beer happened in 1914, when a planner for the St. Patrick’s Day dinner at a local New York club decided that everything should be green for the celebration. The guests were a bit dismayed when they learned the dye used was actually a laundry whitener called “Wash Blue.” The planner assured them the whitener was too diluted to kill them.

As a side note, the City of Chicago still dyes the water of the Chicago River green, using the same dye that is placed in drainage pipes to track underground water flow.

The sales of cabbage are up 70% during this time as people enjoy a traditional corned beef and cabbage meal.

Speaking of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and cabbage, in New Orleans, amid Mardi Gras parades, they hold a few St. Patrick’s Day parades as well. According to the New Orleans St. Patrick’s Day web site, those watching the parade are instructed to call out “Throw me something, Mister!” Sometimes they have cabbages, carrots and onions thrown at them, not beads.

New York City has the largest and oldest St. Patrick’s Day parade, with the first one held in 1792.

Hot Springs, Arkansas has hosted the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade since 2003. This Arkansas event began when friends of Irish and German descent, over pints, decided to use the “World’s Shortest Street in Everyday Use,” the 98-foot long Bridge Street in town. Some other cities have challenged that claim of the shortest parade, but it was decided that marching in place did not constitute a parade.

St. Henry, Ohio in heavily German Mercer County still hosts a St. Patrick’s parade and festival, started by accident in the 1960s, again over pints, where the three Irish families living in town were challenged to hold a parade. It started as a small parade (there were about 20 Irish descendants in town) but now includes all the local high school marching bands and fire departments and other floats. They definitely wear green and the green beer flows free.

The shamrock, a native clover-looking plant, was not originally used as a teaching tool. Many believe that St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover to teach others about the Christian Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) but that hasn’t been proven to be true. However, the number three was a sacred number in Irish mythology, so it does make sense for the shamrock to hold that connection to the Holy Trinity — just likely not in an instructive way.

One Irish mystery that hasn’t been solved is that there appear to be no female leprechauns ever sighted, which perhaps explains why leprechauns are so very grumpy. Some say the leprechauns are considered rejected fairies, left out of the fairy families forever.

Finally, for the time a person may be asked to offer a blessing at an Irish celebration, many will use the old Irish blessing,”May the road rise up to meet you, May the wind be always at your back, May the sun sine warm upon your face, and the rain fall soft upon your fields, and until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.”

But there are others, most of them not as lyrical but often very practical.

-“Time is a great storyteller.”

-“Experience is the comb that life gives a bald man.”

-“May you escape the gallows, avoid distress, And be as healthy as a trout.”

-“If God sends you down a stony path, May He give you strong shoes.”