St. Patrick’s Day is one of those really random holidays that lots of Americans celebrate mainly because it gives us an excuse to get drunk, wear green, and pinch total strangers. But few know the real story about the man who originally inspired the celebration, and even less about the images associated with the annual bacchanalian festival.
So I thought I’d share and dispel some of the most common myths and misconceptions associated with St. Patrick’s Day.
St. Patrick was Irish.
Nope. St. Patrick, whose original name was Maewyn Succat (Can you imagine celebrating St. Maewyn’s day? Lame.), was British born. At 16, his family was attacked by Irish raiders and he was shuttled off to slavery. He spent 6 years as an enslaved sheep herder until a vision from God inspired him to escape. After that, he entered the priesthood, where he assumed the name Patrick.
St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland.
Um, not really, since Ireland doesn’t have any snakes. What St. Paddy did do, however, was return to Ireland after his escape from slavery and begin spreading Christianity to the largely pagan Irish folk. Thus the notion that he drove ‘snakes’ from Ireland is probably more of a figurative idea. The pagan Celts of ancient Ireland also used the symbol of the snake in many of their rituals, so that also plays a part in the erroneous snake-ridding legend.
St. Patrick’s Day is always celebrated on March 17.
It is! Except… occasionally, it isn’t. St. Patrick’s Day always occurs during Lent. The Catholic church has a policy against celebrating saint feast days when they fall on a solemnity. For brevity’s sake, we’ll just say a solemnity is a reeeeally important event on the Catholic calendar (for instance, Good Friday is a solemnity). On the rare times that March 17 falls on a solemnity, dear old St. Paddy gets shifted to another spot on the calendar. The last time St. Patrick’s Day was moved was in 2008, when it was shifted to March 15. The next time will be 2160. So, I doubt you’ll have to mark your calendar for that one.
The shamrock is a symbol of good luck.
Well, kinda. Back in the day when St. Paddy was trying to convince those pagans to switch to Christianity, Powerpoint slides and Venn diagrams hadn’t been invented yet. So, trying to explain a complicated concept like The Holy Trinity was a bit of a hassle. Luckily, there were all these little three-leaf clovers growing about that he could pluck and use as a visual aid. And that’s how the shamrock became linked to St. Patrick.
The color green is the traditional hue associated with St. Patrick.
As this clip from the History Channel reveals, the original color associated with St. Patrick was blue. The color green came into play when Irish Catholics would wear a shamrock on the feast day of St. Patrick. Eventually, the Irish adopted more widespread use of the color as a political and patriotic statement during the Society of United Irishmen’s rebellion against British rule in the 1790s.
So now you know the truth about St. Patrick’s Day. In case you’re wondering what you should do with these valuable new brain wrinkles, I recommend the following: go to your local pub, and bet a drink to anyone who thinks they know more than you do about St. Patrick’s Day. Because in the end, it is all about getting sloshed, isn’t it?
Here are some choice St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Atlanta where you can flaunt your newfound Irish knowledge:
2010 Atlanta St. Patrick’s Parade & Festival (March 13)
Peachtree Street, Downtown. Noon. Coach Vince Dooley is this year’s Grand Marshal. Visit http://www.stpatsparadeatlanta.com/ for parade route and details.
The Junior League of Atlanta’s ShamRock N Roll Road Race (March 14)
Highlights of the race held at Atlantic Station include entertainment at the start and finish, a pre-race warm up by Operation Boot Camp and bands like Consoultant and Stratogeezer along the course. Kilt wearers are welcome! 5k race starts at 8am; 10k at 8:30. All entrants will receive a free running shirt. For more info, visit: http://www.jlatlanta.org/?nd=shamrock_n_roll
St. Patrick’s Day Party at AltoRex Rooftop Lounge (March 17)
The open-air lounge, situated atop nationally acclaimed restaurant Pacci Ristorante, will serve up green beer and drink specials including their signature Lemintcello, made of housemade Limoncello, Midori and fresh mint, as well as Irish food specials. Win raffle prizes and take pictures with a real leprechaun! For more information, call: 678-412-2402 or visit: www.altorexlounge.com .
St. Paddy’s Day at Stats, (March 17)
Celebrate with $2 pints from 2 p.m.-2 a.m., live music by Whiskey and Stout, and giveaways from Baileys, Bushmills, Guiness and more. Call 404-885-1472 for more details.
St. Patrick’s Day at Fado Irish Pub (March 17)
Pub opens at 6 a.m. Bagpipers and Irish dancers start at 12:30 p.m. After that there will be an outdoor festival with live music all day and a DJ at night. $15 cover charge for adults after noon. Kids enter free. You must be 21 or over to be in the event area after 4 pm. Tickets available at: http://www.fadoirishpub.com/atlanta/
photo credit: Loci Lenar