It’s no secret that beer and spirits are often associated with St. Patrick’s Day. For some, the holiday is an excuse to drink green drinks, but for others, the day has a special significance. Have you ever wondered about the origins of the holiday and the St. Patrick’s Day traditions that continue today?
He was not Irish, as far as we know for sure. While the exact time St. Patrick was born has not been determined, most historians agree that this was the late 300s or early 400s. He was born in western England, Wales. At that time, the area was part of the Roman Empire’s province of Britannia and comprised both present-day England and Wales, with its northern border marked by Hadrian’s Wall.
At the age of 16, he was kidnapped by pirates from his home and forced into slavery in Ireland, where he took care of animals. His time as a slave was likely spent in the county of Mayo, which meant he traveled 200 miles to the Irish coast and then returned to England. During this time he adopted the Christian faith as an enslaved person. Years later, he returned to his hometown to spread Christianity. Since Hibernia was never part of the Roman Empire, Rome’s conversion to Christianity between 313-323 bypassed Ireland altogether. Most people followed a pagan religion based on Celtic mythology.
While other Christian missionaries before preached in Ireland, none were as successful as Saint Patrick in converting the Irish to Christianity. He was famous for his reverent interest in pagan religious believers and even for drawing attention to their beliefs and connections with Christianity.
Irish Christians began celebrating St.Patrick’s feast in the late 800s or early 900s, which means St.Patrick’s Day has been an event for over a thousand years. Since St. Patrick’s feast day always takes place during Lent, it has been associated with the preparations for Easter. The Irish often attended Church ceremonies to honor the Patron saints. And in the afternoon there was usually a traditional Irish meal and celebrations with dancing, games, and holidays.
St. Patrick’s Day first started honoring St. Patrick on his death anniversary. The Christian people held a grand feast where Lenten food and alcohol restrictions were temporarily lifted, so drinking became synonymous with vacation. Today, this tradition continues as some Catholic people choose to set aside Lent restrictions just for St. Patrick’s Day.
Over the years, St.Patrick’s Day has been less about people and more about general Irish customs, culture, and history. In the 1840s, the tradition reached America when thousands of Irish people emigrating to America to escape the potato famine of the time organized an enormous St. Patrick’s Day march. Since then, the American people have embraced the holiday and have continued to add their own interpretations to their ever-evolving traditions.
It all happened in the early twentieth century by Dr. Thomas Hayes Curtin. Curtin was an Irish-American doctor who made green beer for Patrick’s Day party. While there are reports of other green beers appearing around the same time, they’re often the first to reveal this.
Whereas today green beer has been turned into a favorite beer with a few drops of green or blue food coloring, Curtin used a different method to turn his beer green 107 years ago. It was called wash blue, a solution of iron powder embedded with a dye that was once used to make faded white garments shiny again. Besides the more widely used food coloring today, some brewers have also tried using spirulina, blue-green algae, to dye their beer green in recent years.
While it took several decades to really be noticed, in the 1950s green beer became a popular symbol of St Patrick’s Day, outpacing washed blue for more flavorful green or blue food coloring in the process. By the late 1980s, it attracted international attention even in Ireland.
If you attend any St. Patrick’s Day celebration, you can expect to see most of the fun-lovers dressed in their best green outfits. While some may think green is a reference to Ireland’s famous rolling green hills. The color actually stems from another iconic St.Patrick’s Day symbol, the clover. According to legend, Saint Patrick used the three-leaf clover as a teaching tool to depict the Holy Trinity of Christianity as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Celebratory ceremonies wore shamrocks in St.Patrick’s honor, and this tradition turned into green dressing.
One of the most popular legends involving Saint Patrick involves riding all the snakes from Ireland. But, Ireland is surrounded by icy waters that would make it impossible for snakes to migrate to Emerald Island in the first place. It is much more likely that the snakes in the legend refer to the paganism that St. Patrick swept away. The Christian faith often used snakes or snakes as a symbol of evil.