Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ray Dale

Tracing St. Patrick’s Day's American roots

Literary Junction
St. Patrick’s Day, the favorite holiday celebrating all things Irish, is coming up this month. If you glance at our decorated ledge when you enter the Big Horn County Library, you will be greeted by our “library leprechaun” who we’ve affectionately named Ian O’Flanaghan.
 
March 17 is the one day of the year everyone wishes they were Irish. At least, that’s what I’ve been told by green-clad revelers in years past. That may or may not be true, but St. Patrick’s Day has definitely become associated with a good many traditions.
 
When I was in college, the place to be on St. Patrick’s Day was in Butte, “partying with the Irish” and consuming a great deal more Guinness beer than is probably prudent. That “tradition” – along with green beer and wearing green – was quite popular among the students I knew then who wanted to show their solidarity with all things Irish.
 
Most people don’t realize the bulk of St. Patrick’s Day festivities started in America and not in Ireland. In fact, the Roman Catholic holiday,  celebrating the patron saint of Ireland, was a minor holiday until the 1970s. The priest would acknowledge the feast day and families would have a big meal. That was it. 
 
Colonial New York City was the first to host an official St. Patrick’s Day parade. Irish immigrants, who were fighting the British in the Revolutionary War, marched down city streets. In subsequent years, different Irish fraternal groups held marches to St. Patrick’s cathedral then, in 1860, joined together to form a single parade.
 
In the United States, the custom of wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day is another tradition that has no roots in Ireland. In fact, green was long thought to be an unlucky color in Ireland. It was the favorite color of the “Good People,” the proper name for faeries, who were thought to steal people, especially children who wore too much of the color. At some point in America, Irish immigrants began wearing green as a show of solidarity and the tradition continued from there.
 
While some may laugh at the naiveté of modern day revelers, it’s now a time where people are encouraged to come together in good cheer and friendship. How can that be a bad thing?
 
If you are interested in learning more about this holiday or the man it celebrates, you will certainly be able to find that at the library. We wish all a happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day.
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