Every year, the 17 March sees millions of people across the world take to the streets. Dressed in green, a pint of Guinness in hand, the sounds of Irish music filling the air, they are celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day. Yet the modern-day parades marking this date so dear to the Irish are far removed from the festival’s origins.
THE HISTORY OF SAINT PATRICK’S DAY
Saint Patrick’s Day is fundamentally a religious festival honouring the anniversary of the death of the patron saint of Ireland in the 5th century AD. The founder of Christianity on the island, Saint Patrick is particularly associated with the shamrock, the three leaves of which he is said to have used to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans.
The shamrock has become a national symbol, along with its vibrant green evocative of the “Emerald Isle”. Both are represented in the costumes worn by Irish people on Saint Patrick’s Day – whether they are Irish by blood or because their heart belongs to Ireland.
AN INTERNATIONAL AND MULTICULTURAL EVENT
But how can a 100% Irish celebration have become a truly international and multicultural event?
This can be explained in part by the fact that the celebration, as we know it today, was not born on Irish soil. It was the many migrants fleeing famine in their country in the 18th century that really created the tradition in the United States.
As a result, North American cities lead the way on Saint Patrick’s Day. New York hosts the world’s largest parade with 200,000 participants and nearly 3 million spectators. Boston, Toronto, Montreal and Chicago also celebrate in style, colouring everything green – from food to buildings to rivers!
FROM GALWAY TO TOKYO VIA BUENOS AREAS
Of course, Irish cities are not to be outdone. Dublin tops the list with a festival lasting four to five days, ahead of smaller but equally lively cities such as Galway, Cork, Kilkenny and Limerick. Surprisingly, it is not only the English-speaking countries that proudly sport green on this spring day. Festivities abound in Brussels, Buenos Aires and even Tokyo .
An event characterised by its warmth, good cheer and celebratory atmosphere, Saint Patrick’s Day is a winner with everyone who loves a party and who wants – for a day – to feel an affinity with a nation proud of its origins. Coinciding with the arrival of spring, St. Patrick’s Day could be described as a carnival that chases away the dark days of winter with all the joy and cheerfulness for which Ireland is renowned.