by Connor Kockler
Recently, an invasion of green in what has otherwise been a white winter took over the United States. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a spell of warm weather, but an event we know as St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday with an interesting history.
If you’ve heard about St. Patrick, you may have encountered the story in which he banished all snakes from Ireland. Though scientific evidence concludes this is a tall tale, it’s true St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and a celebrated saint of the Catholic Church. He is widely believed to have died on March 17, and thus it became celebrated as his feast day.
But how did a religious feast day turn into our modern celebration of Irish culture? Historical research indicates early St. Patrick’s Day festivities in the United States date back to 17th century Spanish Florida in St. Augustine. Cities such as Boston, New York and Savannah started having celebrations around the 18th and 19th centuries, with Boston being the first in the Thirteen Colonies. Other cities with Irish heritage have since followed suit. Our state capital of St. Paul had its 52nd annual parade this year.
Reasons for the date’s rapid expansion are also speculated upon. Since March 17 is in the middle of Lent, fasting restrictions are often lifted, giving rise to the tradition of drinking on the day. Irish settlers coming to America in waves after the Great Potato Famine also took up the celebration as an expression of identity in their new home. From these beginnings, St. Patrick’s Day has now been widely adopted by the American public.
But it would be much longer until it was recognized officially. In fact, St. Patrick’s Day isn’t actually an official holiday in the United States. The place it’s official is Suffolk County, Massachusetts, which celebrates it alongside Evacuation Day, commemorating the retreat of British forces from Boston during the Revolutionary War. March has been declared Irish-American Heritage Month every year since 1991.
Well-known traditions include Chicago dyeing its river green, which started in 1962. This practice has been imitated by many other cities in dyeing their fountains or canals green. The White House started dyeing the north fountain green in 2009. Seattle paints the road traffic stripe green for its parade. Peas are traditionally planted in the Northeastern United States on St. Patrick’s Day.
The day has even been an occasion for international politics. During the last few decades, the Irish taoiseach, or prime minister, has almost always been in Washington, D.C., on March 17 for an official visit. During Bill Clinton’s tenure, the day served as a venue for peace talks concerning the conflict between Irish unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland.
Who knew one day could contain so many different elements? Religious roots, celebratory extravagance, national heritage and a symbol of international friendship. No wonder it’s struck a chord with Americans and people all around the world and has become so prevalent in our culture. It’s reflective of the great variety of experiences and cultures that make the United States such an amazing place to live and work. For next year’s St. Patrick’s Day, remember how it came to be, and just how lucky we are to have such a great tradition each year.
Connor Kockler is a Sauk Rapids-Rice High School student. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.