For many of us, March 17, 2013 has been marked on our calendars since the groggy haze of last year’s St. Patrick’s Day finally wore off. The day where the partying starts in the wee hours of the morning and goes late into the night and green food is totally acceptable. Ironically enough, this day started out as a religious holiday, but the North American meaning of the day could not be farther from it’s original definition.
Most people may not know that St. Patrick was an actual person, or what achievements propelled him to sainthood. Born in Ireland in the fifth century, the young St. Patrick was kidnapped by the British when he was sixteen and taken to England as a slave. While there, he became a devout Christian and when he escaped back to Ireland he brought the religion with him. St. Patrick has since been credited with the spread of Christianity in Ireland and the anniversary of his death, March 17, became one of the most important Irish religious holidays. The Irish have been celebrating the day for thousands of years and treat it primarily as a sacred occasion. Interestingly, one of the most well known symbols of St. Patrick’s Day, the shamrock, is a Christian symbol. The three leaves represent the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It was an analogy that St. Patrick used during his teachings. Traditionally, to celebrate the day, Irish families would attend church in the morning and then feast in the afternoon.
The holiday made it’s way into Canada in 1759 when Irish soldiers who were serving in the British army celebrated it. It spread further with the arrival of Irish settlers. It’s not exactly known when St. Patrick’s Day went from a religious holiday to a day with connotations of heavy drinking, but the phenomenon seems to be entirely North American. The day is recognized as a national holiday in Ireland, meaning that school and places of work are closed. In Canada, it is recognized by the provincial governments, however it is not an official holiday in any province except for Newfoundland and Labrador.
In 1995, the Irish government realized that they could use the popularity of the holiday to promote tourism and Irish culture. Originally, pubs were closed in Ireland on the holiday; however, the government allowed them to open in order to capitalize on the North American fanaticism for the drinking culture of the holiday. Every year, nearly a million people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin. The celebrations last for days and feature parades, concerts, outdoor theatre shows and fireworks. Guinness, the famous Irish stout, has also marketed itself as the official beer of St. Patrick’s Day. While on any given day, five-point-five million pints are consumed worldwide, on St. Patrick’s Day, that number more than doubles to thirteen million pints worldwide.
Globally, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many countries, including Japan, Singapore, and Russia. However, it remains most popular in Canada, the United States, and Australia. Over four million Canadians are of Irish descent, with nearly four hundred thousand living in Atlantic Canada, making up a significant per cent of the total population. Many of these people with Irish heritage see the holiday as a way to celebrate the history of the country and their shared culture. Canadian celebrations often feature green beer and other forms of green mixed drinks. Many partygoers even go so far as to mimic the Irish flag by dressing in green, orange, and white. Large cities often seize on the opportunity to throw a parade to celebrate the date, and the contribution of Irish settlers to Canadian culture and history. The largest of these celebrations occur in Montreal and Toronto, which have two of the largest Irish populations in the country.
While celebrations in Sackville might not be to the scale of a big city, you can still expect to see formidable Irish spirit this weekend. So, get out your bright green clothes, be sure to purchase some green food-dye and remember; everyone is a little Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!