Called Lá Fhéile Pádraig in Irish, this is a day for wearing green, decorating with shamrocks, eating Irish foods, and enjoying Irish culture.
This day started as a Christian feast day but has become widely enjoyed as a secular holiday, with parades and Irish pride wherever Irish descendants live, worldwide.
The actual man named Patrick lived a looooong time ago, in the fifth century, so little is known of his life. He was born into a wealthy Roman British family and was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a teenager, destined to become a slave, but after several years, he was able to run away and return to Britain, where he was reunited with his family.
Patrick studied to become a priest and later returned to Ireland, where he converted both royalty and the poor to the Christian religion. There are many stories about this time, some of which are undoubtedly exaggerations or myths. For example, it's said that Patrick drove all of the snakes out of Ireland, but scholars say that there were no snakes in all of Ireland during Patrick's lifetime—so there were none to be driven away! (If you want to know why there are no snakes in Ireland, read this. The short answer is: because Ireland is an island that was covered in ice relatively recently.)
What's Up with All the Green?
Patrick was originally associated with the color blue, and "St. Patrick's cross," which is part of the flag of the United Kingdom, is a red “X” on a white field. But somehow red-white-and-blue gave way to the color green for St. Patrick's Day. This is because green is associated with Ireland. (It's called the "Emerald Isle" because the plant life literally makes the isle emerald colored. Even the stone walls and ruins tend to be green--as you can see in the picture show right.)
Of course, shamrocks are also green; “the wearing of the green” began as people tucked shamrocks into their buttonholes, and now people wear everything from green t-shirts and hats to green shoelaces and even hair!
Some people mock or pinch those who are not wearing green on this day. Do you think that's carrying it a bit far?
Speaking of carrying things a bit far: Some cities dye the water in their fountains green for the day. Chicago even dyes the Chicago River green!
(A few other cities dye their rivers, as well. They use vegetable dye. No report on whether or not fish enjoy the celebration.)
Plans are afoot to floodlight landmarks around the world with green lights--including the Empire State Building (U.S.), the Sydney Opera House (Australia), and the London Eye (U.K.).
Why Shamrocks on St. Patrick's Day?
The shamrock is a three-leafed clover that has become a symbol of Ireland and is even registered as a trademark by the government of Ireland! It is used as an emblem for Irish sports teams and even the Boston Celtics*; for Ireland's oldest airline, Aer Lingus; for Irish pubs all over the world, and for many other Irish products, schools, and organizations. There is even a shamrock featured on the passport stamp of Montserrat, a Caribbean island with many people of Irish descent.
*(The ancient Celts were widespread throughout Europe, but Celtic languages and cultures are now mostly restricted to Ireland and Scotland. When you see "Celtic," it usually refers to Irish or Scottish culture; "Gaelic" is another term associated with the Irish and Scottish culture.)
What Other Symbols are Seen on St. Patrick's Day?
The Celtic harp is another symbol of Ireland. Irish folklore tells us that fairies called leprechauns bring luck (symbolized by the rare, thus lucky, 4-leafed clover, which some people mix up with the 3-leafed shamrock) and who keep a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
Celebrate St. Patty's Day!
Celebrate with fun!
- Here is a word-search puzzle.
Five leprechauns celebrated St. Patrick's Day by going on a tramp through the fields. Each found a lucky treasure. Using the clues below, can you figure out what each leprechaun found?
1.One leprechaun found a white faux-fur rabbit's foot, and another found a 4-leaf clover.
2.The five leprechauns were Pat, Mac, Dirk, the one who found the green feather, and the one who found the silver horseshoe.
3.Walt was walking beside the one who found the gold nugget when he spotted his treasure.
4.Mac and Matt found the two green treasures.
5.Pat's treasure was soft, and Dirk's treasure was hard.
ANSWERS: Pat-rabbit's foot; Mac-4-leaf clover; Dirk-gold nugget; Matt-feather; Walt-horseshoe.Celebrate with games!
This game is so fun! It's like Mah Jong solitaire, but with St. Patty's day theme!
A simple “Slap”-type online game can be found on "Apples 4 the Teacher," along with “Scramblers” and Concentration.
Celebrate with food!
And, no, I wasn't thinking of Lucky Charms cereal! I was thinking of something a little more authentic!
Here are recipes for everything from Irish soda bread, cooked cabbage, and corned beef stew, to rainbow cupcakes, “Sweet Shamrocks,” and potato candy!