St. Patrick’s Day means green everything! Green food, green clothes, and green party decorations. But why do we celebrate this Irish beloved holiday?
The earliest observance of St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland dates back to the 17th century, as a religious feast day that commemorated the death of Saint Patrick, the nation’s patron saint. The day was a quiet one and didn’t become a public holiday in Ireland until 1904. During the 20th century, it became a public spectacle. Mass would be held in the morning, followed by a military parade, but the day was still relatively somber, with bars across the country closed for the day. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that general parade floats and entertainment started to replace the traditional military parade, which than fully transformed in 1996 into the St. Patrick’s Festival. But what caused the transformation?
The turn in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day was heavily influenced by the U.S. Dating back to 1737, the first U.S. celebration occurred in Boston when a group of elite Irish men came together to celebrate over dinner. Then, the tradition of parading began in New York in 1766 amongst Irish Catholic members of the British Army. The day grew in significance following the end of the Civil War with the arrival of large numbers of Irish immigrants. Irish-Americans were looking for ways to demonstrate their civic pride and identity.
At first, celebrations were only occurring in areas of highly concentrated Irish communities. Shortly, the tradition of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day spread across the U.S. As Irish-American communities grew, so did the size of the parades and festivals. By the 20th century, the marketing potential for the day caught on by drugstores, bars, and food giants like McDonald’s.
It continued to gain momentum over the decades because generations of Irish immigrants were excited to celebrate their origins, even with people of no Irish heritage. After becoming a full-fledged American cultural phenomenon, the Americanized form of the celebration circled back to Ireland. St. Patrick’s Day is now celebrated in the form of parades, parties, and festivals all around the world.
So wherever you may be on this green filled day, raise a glass and cheers!