Why is St. Patrick's Day so important in the US?
St. Patrick’s Day falls on March 17th and about half of America is expected to celebrate this holiday this year in one way or another. I remember growing up and wearing green to school that day and having St. Patrick’s day related celebrations and treats in school. But why do we celebrate it? As much as America tries to identify as a culture of its own, it’s always going to me a mosaic of cultures. In the 1800s to 1900s, there was a big surge of Irish Catholic immigrants to America to escape the famine and religious restrictions they were having in Ireland. There were Irish immigrants in the US before that time but over 4 million Irish immigrants came to the US at the time and about 34.5 million Americans today (a little over 10% of America) identifies as predominately or partially Irish. Just like all other immigrants in the US, the Irish brought their culture and traditions to America. St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland and is a celebration of St. Patrick himself and of the Irish culture.
So who is St. Patrick and why is he important to the Irish? Well, St. Patrick is a British man that was captured by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland as a slave and worked there as a slave for six years. Even though St. Patrick was raised in a Christian family, its during the six years in Ireland that he became a believer in Christ. He escaped Ireland and reached safely back in Britain where he decided he was going to dedicate his life to Christianity and wanted to return to Ireland to spread Christianity. He didn’t think he was ready to be a missionary so he trained in France at a monastery and returned to Ireland as a bishop and spent the rest of his life spreading the word of the Lord to the Irish and organizing monasteries, schools and churches. He is believed to have died on March 17th which is why St. Patrick’ day is celebrated on that day. During the lent season, in Ireland, they traditionally didn’t serve alcohol but on St. Patrick’s day they would lift that rule to celebrate which explains the love for alcohol on that day. But the integral part we forget to celebrate, is that traditionally Irish Catholics attend church that day and take part in mass to celebrate the Saint that was responsible for spreading Christianity throughout Ireland. Even if your not religious, you can appreciate a man who went back to the country that treated him as a slave to make a difference because he saw a vision of what he could do. His life is a true testament that one person can make a difference.
I wish we took the time to understand traditions, cultures and holidays before we exploited it. So maybe next year, before you put on that green shirt, drink your shamrock shake or green beer, wear leprechaun hats and paint clovers on your faces, take a moment to remember why its a celebration. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a buzz kill, I think it’s great that a holiday that immigrants brought over is celebrated by the masses of all cultures and religions, something the US was way more open about doing before. Cultural and religious differences seem to create separation these days rather than unity so seeing this kind of unity over a culture is refreshing. We have to remember, not all of America necessarily enjoys celebrations of cultures and differences though. The GOP’s tweet this morning, using Beto O’Rourke’s DUI mug shot with a leprechaun hat added to the photo is a clear indication that they rather exploit a culture than celebrate it. But hopefully, most of us don’t view other cultures and religions that way and understand America’s beauty is its blended differences amongst its people. So to all the Irish and non-Irish celebrators….Happy St. Patrick’s Day!