Zoe Rogers, ‘Doah Staff Writer
March 16, 2014
‘Doah photo courtesy of Zoe Rogers
As soon as March came upon us, forty shades of green covered stores and restaurants across Winchester. I’m going to hazard a guess that this is not just a Winchester phenomenon; America loves Saint Patrick’s Day. For good reason, too, it’s the perfect excuse for food and merriment. Plus, everyone looks good in green, right?
As a proud native of Northern Ireland, I am looking forward to the celebrations when my lovely ‘wee’ nation is put in the spotlight for a day. However, I feel there may be some myths that need busting in light of the big day and I’m afraid this is where you will have to forgive my cheeky Irish humor.
First up, what is this about pinching people who don’t wear green? I can confirm that this is not a tradition in Ireland, and should you pinch an Irishman you would probably regret it immediately! Second of all, I’m sure corned beef and cabbage is delicious but I do believe I have never tasted such a dish in all my life. Want to eat like an Irish family on St. Paddy’s, I’ll send you a recipe of some good Irish stew! Finally, we have many rivers in Ireland, none of which have ever been dyed green for Saint Patrick’s Day like in Chicago (to my knowledge).
Think we’ll leave that to the Americans! Oh and, just in case there is any misconception, leprechauns do not exist. Though, that would be cool! That said, maybe I should divulge a little of the history behind this merry day. Saint Patrick’s Day, or Paddy’s Day as it is affectionately known, is a community celebration that takes place on Mar. 17 every year in honor of the patron saint of Ireland who was responsible for confronting and defeating paganism in fifth century Ireland.
The truth is, Saint Patrick wasn’t even Irish. The patron saint was raised in Britain but had come to Ireland at the age of 16 after he had been captured and enslaved. During his time in Ireland, in harsh conditions, he developed a deep Christian faith. After escaping and returning to Britain, he became an ordained priest and felt called to return to the island of Ireland where he travelled with one mission: to convert pagans to Christianity.
There are two symbols associated with Saint Patrick. The first is the shamrock; a 3 leafed wild-clover, which was used by the Saint to explain the characteristics of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in Christianity. The second is a snake; legend has it that Saint Patrick was responsible for driving snakes out of Ireland (there are no snakes on the Island), however this is more likely a metaphor for the Saint’s role in driving out paganism from Ireland.
Whilst, for many around the world, Saint Patrick’s Day is a symbol of Irish patriotism and charm, Ireland did not really recognize it as a major holiday until the 1970s. The Saint Patrick’s Festival in Dublin was not established until 1995. Previously, it was a minor religious holiday celebrated by a family meal and, perhaps, a religious service. In fact, the Irish-Americans did a far better job of celebrating the day much earlier than we ever did!
Whilst it has religious roots, today, the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day is more a secular tradition than anything. In Ireland, we celebrate the day with family, friends, traditional Irish music and dance, and, of course, a pint of Guinness (or two). Across the island of Ireland, parades are held in major cities and Irish pubs are filled with revelers. The most popular parade, undeniably, is held in Dublin where last year 500,000 people joined in the celebrations.
It may come as a shock, but I did not start celebrating “Paddy’s Day” until about five years ago when my high school allowed us the day off for the celebration. “But you’re Irish?” I hear you ask. I live in Northern Ireland, physically a province of the Island of Ireland but nominally a nation of the United Kingdom, which consists of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Sadly, our nation has faced bitter division. We have suffered a decades-long identity crisis and civil war. Whilst one side of our community identifies with the Irish culture and patriotism, the other side identifies with British culture and shows loyalty the Crown. Then there are some, like myself, who identify with a distinct Northern Irish culture and national pride. Of course this is oversimplified, I will save our intricate history for another time. As a result of this division, celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day, a symbol of Irish spirit, is associated with just one side of the community and fails to be an inclusive community celebration. However, as we live in peacetime, and tensions ease considerably, our nation begins to embrace celebrations with much greater fervor and community spirit. The capital city, Belfast, hosts an annual Saint Patrick’s Day parade, with thousands from across Northern Ireland participation and spectating.
Irish or not, “Paddy’s Day” is a light-hearted celebration that brings together friends and family to enjoy Ireland’s distinct hospitality and rich culture of religious tradition, music and dance.
Zoe Rogers is an international student from Northern Ireland, studying at Shenandoah for a year on scholarship from the British Council. Sadly, she is only 20 and won’t be enjoying a pint of Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day but she will be wearing green on the big day, purely to avoid being pinched!