January 20, 2007
The Gregory’s are invading Ireland again. This third trip, the American’s will learn how to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day correctly. But who is St. Patrick and why does he have a day that generates parades and green beer drinking parties?
St Patrick was born in 386 AD to a wealthy British family. He was kidnapped by Irish raiders when he was sixteen and was held captive for six years. He became a devout Christian during his capture and when he escaped he returned to England after walking nearly 200 miles.
After his return, he heard a voice to go back to Ireland and spread Christianity. He accomplished this by using Irish myths and oral legends to explain Christianity. An example is he superimposed an image of the sun on a Christian cross to craete what we call today the Celtic Cross. He died 17 March about 480 AD.
The Irish have been celebrating this religious day for thousands of years. On St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink, and feastâ€”on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.
The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade took place in 1766 in New York City when Irish soldiers who were serving in the British military marched to reconnect with their Irish roots.
Over the next thirty-five years, Irish patriotism among American immigrants flourished, prompting the rise of so-called “Irish Aid” societies, like the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and the Hibernian Society. Each group would hold annual parades featuring bagpipes and drums.
Up until the mid-nineteenth century, most Irish immigrants in America were members of the Protestant middle class. When the Great Potato Famine hit Ireland in 1845, close to a million poor, uneducated, Catholic Irish began to pour into America to escape starvation. Despised for their religious beliefs and funny accents by the American Protestant majority, the immigrants had trouble finding even menial jobs. When Irish Americans in the country’s cities took to the streets on St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate their heritage, newspapers portrayed them in cartoons as drunk, violent monkeys.
However, the Irish soon began to realize that their great numbers endowed them with a political power that had yet to be exploited. They started to organize, and their voting block, known as the “green machine,” became an important swing vote for political hopefuls. Suddenly, annual St. Patrick’s Day parades became a show of strength for Irish Americans, as well as a must-attend event for a slew of political candidates. In 1948, President Truman attended New York City ‘s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a proud moment for the many Irish whose ancestors had to fight stereotypes and racial prejudice to find acceptance in America.
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 St. Patrick’s Day as an opportunity to drive tourism and showcase Ireland to the rest of the world. Over a million people took part in Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin, a multi-day celebration featuring parades, concerts, outdoor theater productions, and fireworks shows, while a half a million watched the parade.
The American Gregory’s will be there in all of their green glory and, more importantly, to revisit family in 2007.