Celebration and Traditions
Today’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations have been greatly influenced by those that developed among the Irish diaspora, especially in North America. Until the late 20th century, St Patrick’s Day was often a bigger celebration among the diaspora than it was in Ireland.[
Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, Irish traditional music sessions (céilithe), and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. There are also formal gatherings such as banquets and dances, although these were more common in the past. St Patrick’s Day parades began in North America in the 18th century but did not spread to Ireland until the 20th century. The participants generally include marching bands, the military, fire brigades, cultural organisations, charitable organisations, voluntary associations, youth groups, fraternities, and so on. However, over time, many of the parades have become more akin to a carnival. More effort is made to use the Irish language, especially in Ireland, where the week of St Patrick’s Day is “Irish language week“.
Since 2010, famous landmarks have been lit up in green on St Patrick’s Day as part of Tourism Ireland’s “Global Greening Initiative” or “Going Green for St Patrick´s Day”. The Sydney Opera House and the Sky Tower in Auckland were the first landmarks to participate and since then over 300 landmarks in fifty countries across the globe have gone green for St Patricks Day.
Christians may also attend church services, and the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for the day. Perhaps because of this, drinking alcohol – particularly Irish whiskey, beer, or cider – has become an integral part of the celebrations. The St Patrick’s Day custom of “drowning the shamrock” or “wetting the shamrock” was historically popular, especially in Ireland. At the end of the celebrations, a shamrock is put into the bottom of a cup, which is then filled with whiskey, beer, or cider. It is then drunk as a toast to St Patrick, Ireland, or those present. The shamrock would either be swallowed with the drink or taken out and tossed over the shoulder for good luck.
On St Patrick’s Day, it is customary to wear shamrocks, green clothing or green accessories. St Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinityto the pagan Irish. This story first appears in writing in 1726, though it may be older. In pagan Ireland, three was a significant number and the Irish had many triple deities, a fact that may have aided St Patrick in his evangelisation efforts. Patricia Monaghan says there is no evidence that the shamrock was sacred to the pagan Irish. However, Jack Santino speculates that it may have represented the regenerative powers of nature, and was recast in a Christian context—icons of St Patrick often depict the saint “with a cross in one hand and a sprig of shamrocks in the other”. Roger Homan writes, “We can perhaps see St Patrick drawing upon the visual concept of the triskele when he uses the shamrock to explain the Trinity”.[
The first association of the colour green with Ireland is from the 11th century pseudo-historical book Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), which forms part of the Mythological Cycle in Irish Mythology and describes the story of Goídel Glas who is credited as the eponymous ancestor of the Gaels and creator of the Goidelic languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx). In the story Goídel Glas, who was the son of Scota and Niul, was bitten by a snake and was saved from death by Moses placing his staff on the snakebite. As a reminder of the incident he would retain a green mark that would stay with him and he would lead his people to a land that would be free of snakes. The colour green was further associated with Ireland from the 1640s, when the green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation. Green ribbons and shamrocks have been worn on St Patrick’s Day since at least the 1680s.
The phrase “wearing of the green” comes from a song of the same name, which laments United Irishmen supporters being persecuted for wearing green. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have seen the re-emergence of Irish cultural symbols, such as the Irish Language, Irish mythology, and the colour green, through the Gaelic Revival and the Irish Literary Revival which served to stir Irish nationalist sentiment. The influence of green was more prominently observable in the flags of the 1916 Easter Rising such as the Sunburst Flag, the Starry Plough Banner, and the Proclamation Flag of the Irish Republic which was flown over the General Post Office, Dublin together with the Irish Tricolour. Throughout these centuries, the colour green and its association with St Patrick’s Day grew.[
The wearing of the ‘St Patrick’s Day Cross’ was also a popular custom in Ireland until the early 20th century. These were a Celtic Christian cross made of paper that was “covered with silk or ribbon of different colors, and a bunch or rosette of green silk in the center”.
(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)