Every year on March 17, the Irish and the Irish-at-heart across the globe observe St. Patrick’s Day. What began as a religious feast day for the patron saint of Ireland has become an international festival celebrating Irish culture with parades, dancing, special foods and a whole lot of green.
Today to celebrate the green holiday we will learn about the facts and traditions that surround the holiday!
The shamrock, which was also called the “seamroy” by the Celts, was a sacred plant in ancient Ireland because it symbolized the rebirth of spring. By the seventeenth century, the shamrock had become a symbol of emerging Irish nationalism. As the English began to seize Irish land and make laws against the use of the Irish language and the practice of Catholicism, many Irish began to wear the shamrock as a symbol of their pride in their heritage and their displeasure with English rule.
Each year, thousands of Irish Americans gather with their loved ones on St. Patrick’s Day to share a “traditional” meal of corned beef and cabbage. Though cabbage has long been an Irish food, corned beef only began to be associated with St. Patrick’s Day at the turn of the century. Irish immigrants living on New York City’s Lower East Side substituted corned beef for their traditional dish of Irish bacon to save money. They learned about the cheaper alternative from their Jewish neighbors.
The original Irish name for these figures of folklore is “lobaircin,” meaning “small-bodied fellow.” Belief in leprechauns probably stems from Celtic belief in fairies, tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. In Celtic folktales, leprechauns were cranky souls, responsible for mending the shoes of the other fairies. Though only minor figures in Celtic folklore, leprechauns were known for their trickery, which they often used to protect their much-fabled treasure.