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St Patrick, Who?

Alan Light, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Have you heard of St. Patrick's Day? Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and his feast is celebrated on the 17th of March. Originally a predominantly religious party, albeit one that allowed for a waive of the rigors of Lent, the celebration became, outside of Ireland, an "off-season" carnival, celebrating Irish culture around the world, driven by emigrants and their descendants.

The waive from the rigors of Lent was necessary because, in Catholic countries, Lent is a time of fasting, sacrifice and contemplation, it is not a time of parties and celebrations, all earthly distractions and pleasures are forbidden, as one reflects and prepares for Easter. In Ireland, St. Patrick's Day allowed for the aforementioned waive, and, for 24 hours, all were allowed to forget the sacrifices and seriousness of Lent, and sing, dance, eat and drink at will.

St Patrick's day spread throughout the world for tragic reasons. In 1845, a pest hit potato farms across Europe, and Ireland, where people, basically, only ate potatoes (it is estimated that an adult Irish man of working age ate about 6 kg of potatoes a day !!!), entered a period of deep hunger and poverty, known as "The Great Famine". During this period, hundreds of thousands of Irishmen and women set out in search of a new life in North America.

The tragedy brought to the United States a new culture. White and English-speaking, the Irish were despised by the earlier waves of immigrants for being poorly educated and Catholic. St. Patrick's first parades were described in the American press as episodes of vandalism, promoted by barbarians. Over time, as the Irish began to integrate into the American mainstream, St. Patrick's day became a celebration of a culture with a relevant contribution to the formation of the United States.

Richie S from Brooklyn, NY, United States, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Due to the huge number of Irish who emigrated to the United States in the 19th century, the feast of Saint Patrick is very popular here. Boston, with one of the largest "Irish" populations in the country, wears a green flag to celebrate (and drink) the Saint and Ireland. The celebration of New York is even greater, and Chicago "tints" the river that crosses it with the colors of Saint Patrick.

From religious festivity to off-season carnival, many Irish symbols and traditions are part of the festivities: the clover (also of luck, but which, in its original version, Saint Patrick would have used to explain the Holy Trinity), gnomes, gigantic beer mugs, music ... all brought together to create a moment of joy and relaxation in the last weeks of winter in the northern hemisphere.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

In a normal year, wherever you are on March 17th, but especially in English-speaking countries, try to find out where the Irish are. There is a good chance that, finding them, if you are lucky, you will find a St. Patrick's party and the opportunity to get to know a little bit more of Irish culture, and to have fun. Put it on your list for your post-pandemic life. After all these tough months, we need to keep alive the hope that, some day, things will get back to normal.

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