Thursday, March 17, 2016

Myths and Legends about St. Patrick's Day!

St Patrick's Day or the Feast of Saint Patrick is one of the biggest celebrations around the world, with ex-pats from the United States to Hong Kong celebrating everything Irish on 17th March - the traditional death date of Saint Patrick (c. AD 385–461). St. Patrick's Day is that one day of the year when everybody is Irish......or at least pretends to be!

Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival, but what does that actually entail? When it comes to St. Patrick's Day history, the United States has all kinds of traditions that, frankly, aren't even Irish. Who was Saint Patrick anyway? And what myths and legends about this Irish holiday have we all been blindly thinking are true for years?

Below are a list of some of the most interesting/unusual St. Patrick's Day tales I could find, as I try to separate the myths from the reality, and let you in on the truth and history of how this particular holiday came about and is truly celebrated.

1/ THE MYTH:  St. Patrick was Irish

THE REALITY: Saint Patrick, who was born in the late 4th century, was one of the most successful Christian missionaries in history. Born in Britain to a Christian family of Roman citizenship, he was taken prisoner at the age of 16 by a group of Irish raiders who attacked his family’s estate. They transported him to Gaelic Ireland, and he spent six years in captivity before escaping back to Britain. Believing he had been called by God to Christianize Ireland, he joined the Catholic Church and studied for 15 years before being consecrated as the church’s second missionary to Ireland. Patrick began his mission to Ireland in 432, and by his death in 461, the island was almost entirely Christian.

Some historians claim his name is in dispute, as later documents, from after Patrick’s time, list his birth name as "Maewyn Succat." His two letters are signed by "Patricius," and he probably adopted the name Patrick from the Latin for "well born" (meaning of aristocratic or high-ranking birth)

2/ THE MYTH:  St. Patrick wore green

THE REALITY: In modern celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day, revelers wear green, eat and drink green foods and turn everything they can dye green. This tradition is said to commemorate St. Patrick’s use of the shamrock in his religious teaching, but didn’t really become a part of his feast celebration until the 19th century. In reality, St. Patrick wore blue.

3/ THE MYTH:  Leprechauns are inexorably linked with St. Patrick’s Day

THE REALITY: While the little green, red-bearded troublemakers are an important part of Irish folklore in general, they have literally nothing to do with the historical St. Patrick’s Day. Leprechauns didn’t appear in Irish literature until the Middle Ages, well after Patrick’s return to Ireland.
While you’ll probably see drawings of leprechauns during your St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans, it’s not because of their link to the holiday, it’s just because they make a handy representation of  "something Irish" – mostly due to pop culture depictions.

4/ THE MYTH:  The Irish get very drunk on St. Patrick’s Day 

THE REALITY: Originally, 17th March, the recorded day of St. Patrick’s death, was celebrated as a Catholic feast and a quiet religious observance. The first largely public celebration of St. Patrick’s Day took place in Boston in 1737. It did not become a national holiday in Ireland until 1903. In fact, until the 1970's, pubs in Ireland were required by law to be closed on 17th March.

5/ THE MYTH:  St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland

THE REALITY: The legend of St. Patrick says that he is celebrated for driving all the snakes out of Ireland. The only problem with this legend is that biologists now believe there were never snakes in Ireland. Before the last Ice Age, Ireland was simply too cold for snakes to survive, then when the glaciers receded, it left the land an island, impossible for snakes to reach. Fossil records from the country corroborate this, as no evidence of snakes has ever been found among the animals living there. Most likely, the legend of the snakes is a metaphor for St. Patrick driving paganism out of Ireland by converting so many people to Christianity.

6/ THE MYTH:  Chicago dyes the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day, so why don’t they dye it blue the rest of year?

THE REALITY: The Windy City does dye the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day. This tradition began in 1962 when the parade organizer, head of a plumbers’ union, noticed that the dye that had been used to find sources of river pollution stained his clothing green. He thought it would be a great idea to use enough dye to turn the whole river green for the city’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Researchers say the environmental impact of the dye is less than that of the pollution from sewage-treatment plants.
But as for dyeing it blue the rest of the year - bodies of water are the color they are because of the light that gets filtered through the water, not because of what’s in them. Fill a glass of water from the Chicago River, and it’ll be neither green nor blue, but clear.

7/ THE MYTH:  America has more Irish than Ireland

THE REALITY: There are more many people in America who have full or partial Irish ancestry than there are in Ireland. According to a US Census of 2013, nearly 34 million Americans had Irish ancestry - around 10% of the total population. The population of Ireland is just four and a half million people.

The areas of America that retain a significant Irish-American population include the metropolitan areas of Boston, Philadelphia, Providence, Hartford, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Baltimore, New York City, Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco and Los Angeles, where most new arrivals of the 1830–1910 period settled. As a percentage of the population, Massachusetts is the most Irish state, with well over 20% of its population claiming Irish descent.

8/ THE MYTH:  Corned beef and cabbage are the traditional St. Patrick's Day feast

THE REALITY: In America, sure. But debates rage as to whether or not this is actually a traditional Irish meal. Proponents say it is, based on the curing of ham to use on long ocean voyages. Others say it’s a more American twist on traditional Irish cuisine.

The truth is somewhere in the middle. The Irish, like pretty much everyone else, would salt-cure meat – but cows were expensive and needed for producing milk, so they’d rarely be slaughtered for food. Irish corned beef was extremely popular in England in the first half of the 1800's, but it was far too expensive for rural Irish tenant farmers to eat.

However, Irish immigrants in New York City’s Lower East Side couldn’t get the pork they were used to eating, as it was much more expensive in the US. So they bought corned beef from their Jewish neighbors because it was cheaper. The corned beef found in pubs and on dinner tables in America is much closer to traditional deli corned beef than what was for sale in Ireland 200 years ago.

To wash this down, those who want to be truly Irish will have a pint of Guinness. The brewer says more than 13 million pints will be consumed around the world on St. Patrick’s Day. So raise a glass!

9/ THE MYTH:  St. Patrick’s Day parades stepped off in Ireland 

THE REALITY: The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was actually held in New York City in 1762, when Irish soldiers serving in the British Army during the Revolutionary War, also known as the American War of Independence (1775–1783), marched through the city to celebrate the religious feast day and their Irish roots. The first parade in Ireland took place in Dublin in 1931.

10/ THE MYTH:  The shamrock is the symbol of St. Patrick’s Day, but for extra luck, you really want a four-leaf clover – which is also Irish

THE REALITY: Four-leaf clovers are prized for their rarity, and as such, are thought to bring great luck. But the difference between the shamrock and the four-leaf clover is more than just a leaf – one is a symbol of national pride, and the other isn’t!

The four-leaf clover isn’t intrinsically Irish in any way, being a universal symbol for good fortune – and one that can be found everywhere. In fact, the clover with the most leaves in history (56, to be exact) was found in Moroka, Japan in 2009.

11/ THE MYTH:  You kiss the Blarney Stone on St. Patrick’s Day to get the gift of the gab

THE REALITY:The Blarney Stone is another one of those intrinsically "Irish" things that people use as shorthand for Irish culture. But it has nothing to do with St. Patrick, as Blarney Castle wasn’t built until 1446, a thousand years after the time of St. Patrick. As an aside, both native Irish people and hygiene experts agree that actually kissing the Blarney Stone is incredibly unsanitary and quite overrated as a tourist destination.

No comments: