From slave to grave, history of Saint Patrick’s Day revealed

Grace Chon

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Around this time of year, the color green becomes the theme. A pinch is given to those who dare to forget to wear green, beer is dyed green and elaborate parades are just not right without green.

Many Americans participate in St. Patrick’s Day without knowing much about the day. Everyone just becomes Irish for this one particular day, no questions asked.

The truth of the matter is what many perceive to be traditional aspects of St. Patrick’s Day in America is far from the original intention of the holiday in Ireland.

This day of secular festivity is actually a religious day filled with rich history and spiritual icons to remember Saint Patrick on the day of his death, March 17, 461 A.D.

“Patrick is a traditional patron of Ireland,” University of California, Los Angeles history professor Patrick Geary said. “Irish immigrants who came to the United States have promoted the feast of St. Patrick which is on the 17 of March as a holiday in the same way other ethnic groups promote their groups. It is something of a holiday in Ireland but in no way is it as it has become in the United States.”

Saint Patrick is a patron saint of Ireland but is from Great Britain. Historians believe Saint Patrick was born around 370 A.D. to 385 A.D. He was from a wealthy Roman British family but became a slave to the Irish when he was 16 years old after being kidnapped and his family estate was raided.

“During this time, there were constant raids on the Welsh and Irish coast,” said University of Southern California historian professor Lisa Bitel. “Saint Patrick was one of many slaves. Teenage boys and women were picked to be used for domestic labor.”

Because Ireland is filled with lush greens, it was mostly farmland. The economy was mostly pastoral and sheep and pig herding were prominent jobs.

While in slavery, Saint Patrick had a vision from God. God sent an angel named Victor who spoke to him through a dream.

“An angel said, ‘Head for the coast,'” Bitel said. “He walked to the coast and supposedly found a boat there. At first, the captain wasn’t going to take him but somehow was convinced.”

Saint Patrick made it back home, although the trip was rough including a shipwreck at France.

After this religious experience he felt urged to go back to Ireland to become a missionary. He returned to Ireland as a bishop and built churches.

This story was documented by Saint Patrick later on in his life a book called, “Confessio.”

Patrick knew the language and culture of the Irish fairly well. He was able to introduce Christianity to them in a familiar way. The shamrock, a national symbol of Ireland, was used to teach the Irish about the trinity. Green is the representative color of Ireland and is one of the colors on their flag.

The origin of pinching is unknown but it could have possibly been created on the playgrounds from young children.

Green beer is expected on Saint Patrick’s Day but there is history to the alcohol consumption. Saint Patrick’s Day falls during Lent, a religious period of fasting, but March 17 is the day when alcohol is consumed as a part of this feast day. But the aspect of alcohol may have been over exaggerated throughout the years.

“It has become a day of drinking for many,” Geary said. “It has nothing to do with celebrating Saint Patrick for many. It became a traditional stereotype. It developed in the 19th century. Working-class Irish men were seen of certain attributes and assumptions later applied to blacks. They were seen as violent, alcoholic, oversexed, thuggish and brutish. This traditional stereotype concerning the Irish came after the great potato famine.”

This holiday came to the United States as a means for the Irish immigrants to have a hold on their roots.

“Millions came to the U.S.,” Bitel said. “Irish people in the U.S outnumbered Irish in Ireland.”

The Irish flocked to places such as New York, Boston and Chicago.

The first parade was held in the United States. Irish solders who were serving in the English military marched through New York City in 1762. President Truman attended a parade in 1948 that indicated an acceptance of the Irish. In 1995, Congress deemed March as Irish-American Heritage Month.

But it does not take an Irish person to celebrate this day. Many participate by wearing green, drinking and eating green-dyed food, beverages and some go as far as dying their dogs green.

“It’s a very colorful time,” said Catherine Duffy, a member and volunteer of an Irish-American Heritage Center. “We have a festival here with music, dance, Irish food, and pipers. It’s all in honor of Saint Patrick.”

So wear green, be responsible and have a good time in St. Patty’s name.