St Patricks Day Fun Facts
St. Patrick’s Day Fun Facts
Each year on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day is observed around the world by the Irish and the Irish-at-heart. The festive holiday started as a religious feast day for the patron saint of Ireland, and has grown into an international festival full of parades, dancing, cultural foods, and a LOT of green.
Since approximately the ninth or tenth century, people in Ireland have been observing the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick on March 17. Interestingly, however, the first parade held to honor St. Patrick’s Day took place not in Ireland but in the United States. On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City, happily received along the sidelines by local residents. Along with their music, the parade helped the soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots, as well as with fellow Irishmen serving in the English army.
In modern-day Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day has traditionally been a religious occasion. In fact, up until the 1970s, Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on March 17. Beginning in 1995, however, the Irish government began a national campaign to use interest in St. Patrick’s Day to drive tourism and showcase Ireland and Irish culture to the rest of the world. Today, approximately 1 million people annually take part in Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin, a multi-day celebration featuring parades, concerts, outdoor theater productions and fireworks shows.
The celebrating has grown contagious: People of all backgrounds celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today, especially throughout the United States, Canada and Australia. Parades and celebrations are held in locations far from Ireland, including Japan, Singapore and Russia, but North America is home to the largest productions, with more than 100 St. Patrick’s Day parades being held across the United States. In 1848, several New York Irish Aid societies decided to unite their parades to form one official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Today, that parade is the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States, with over 150,000 participants. Each year, nearly 3 million people line the 1.5-mile parade route up 5th Avenue from 44th Street to 86th Street to watch the procession, which takes more than five hours. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Savannah also celebrate with parades involving between 10,000 and 20,000 participants each. How will you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year?
The first written reference of the shamrock in the English language dates to 1571. The shamrock, or “seamrog” (Irish word meaning “little clover”), was a sacred plant in ancient Ireland that symbolized the rebirth of spring. By the seventeenth century, the shamrock had become a symbol of emerging Irish nationalism. As the English began to seize Irish land and make laws against the use of the Irish language and the practice of Catholicism, many Irish began to wear the shamrock as a symbol of their pride in their heritage. Today, the shamrock is one of the national flowers of Ireland.
The shamrock features three leaves, which is fitting, since three is Ireland’s magic number. Numbers played an important role in Celtic symbolism, with three being the most important: Love, valour, and wit; faith, hope, and charity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three was also the most sacred number, perhaps because it signified totality: past, present, and future; behind, before, and here; sky, earth, and underworld. Even the rhythm of storytelling in Irish tradition is based on threefold repetition. “Three accomplishments well regarded in Ireland: a clever verse, music on the harp, the art of shaving faces.”
The original Irish name for these figures of folklore is “lobaircin,” meaning “small-bodied fellow.” Belief in leprechauns probably stems from Celtic belief in fairies – – tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. In Celtic folktales, leprechauns were cranky souls, responsible for mending the shoes of the other fairies. Though only minor figures in Celtic folklore, leprechauns were known for their trickery, which they often used to protect their much-fabled treasure.
Near a misty stream in Ireland in the hollow of a tree
Live mystical, magical leprechauns
who are clever as can be
With their pointed ears, and turned up toes and little coats of green
The leprechauns busily make their shoes and try hard not to be seen.
Only those who really believe have seen these little elves
And if we are all believers
We can surely see for ourselves.
Celtic religion, legend and history were passed from one generation to the next by way of stories and songs. After being conquered by the English and forbidden to speak their own language, the Irish, like other oppressed peoples, turned to music to help them remember important events and hold on to their heritage and history. Still today, Celtic music is produced with instruments that have been used for centuries, including the fiddle, the uilleann pipes (a sort of elaborate bagpipe), the tin whistle (a sort of flute that is actually made of nickel-silver, brass or aluminum) and the bodhran (an ancient type of framedrum that was traditionally used in warfare rather than music).
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