People all around the world are celebrating St. Patrick's Day, dressed in green with shamrock symbols, drinking tons of beer and mixing it with an Irish whiskey, dancing to the traditional Irish music.
St. Patrick's Day in Zagreb and Prague
I always loved this holiday and I've celebrated it in Zagreb, dancing on a concert of a band playing Irish music, with a pint of green beer in my hand. When I moved to Prague, I was disappointed. Besides one band, Five Leaf Clover, which plays Irish music regularly in the Vagon club, and my Slovenian friend with her Irish band Noreia, this holiday was celebrated in a much simpler way – watching football in Irish pubs and drinking Jameson that was on sale (not even a green beer! :(). In the past two years, the situation in Prague is changing. I was always running to my hometown to celebrate, but this year Prague has a lot to offer on St. Patrick's weekend: traditional Irish music, workshops, performances, stand-up comedy, Irish cuisine and even a parade through the streets of the city. As if they discovered the magic (and an opportunity to sell more drinks, decorations, food) of St. Patrick's Day just now.
But I already had my plane ticket booked for Ireland. One of my New Year's decisions was to travel the world in an appropriate moment for each country. I've decided to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, go to Munich during the Oktoberfest, travel to Japan when Sakura is in bloom, visit North Korea on 1st of May, relax on a beach in Istria during Ferragosto,... Hihi, the last one is a joke, of course, but a true one.. :/ So, the first of my world events was St. Patrick's Day in the second biggest city in Ireland, in Cork. I wanted to avoid huge crowds in Dublin and I have a good friend in Cork, which also helped :).
Who was St. Patrick?
As I said, many people around the world celebrate this Irish holiday, but not many know much about a life of St. Patrick and how it all began... There is a traditional Irish song „St. Patrick was a gentleman“, that, using metaphors, tells a story about the saint patron of Ireland. I've chosen a version of the song by Serbian Orthodox Celts, the first Irish band in Eastern Europe that is on the scene for more than 25 years promoting Irish culture in Serbia and all around the world.
Saint Patrick came from Scotland or England, although the lyrics of the poem say: „...his father was a Callahan, his mother was a Grady, his aunt was O'Shaughnessy and uncle he was Brady...“ (typical Irish surnames). Those lyrics simply show that the Irish people treat and honor him as one of their own. When young Patrick was 16 years old, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and brought to slavery in Ireland. He worked for 6 years as a shepherd in terrible conditions, but his faith in God gave him the courage to endure and finally escape from captivity. He spent the next seven years traveling through Europe and studying Christianity. He returned to England as a priest, but not forgetting his mission to spread Christianity in Ireland. So he came to Ireland once more in 430 as a bishop's delegate.
However, he had a tough time convincing The High King of Tara in Ireland about his intentions to preach the word of Gospel. First, the King commanded him to make snow fall. Patrick declined to do so, because, according to his beliefs, only God is allowed to do such a thing. As he declined it, it started snowing immediately. The second thing that Patrick did to convince the King in his intentions, was to pick a shamrock from the ground and explain that the three branches of the leaf represented the Blessed Trinity.
By spreading Christianity, St. Patrick drove paganism (symbolized by the snake) from Ireland – „...he gave the snakes an awful twist and banished them forever...“ Another legend about the famous saint says that on his pilgrimage at Croagh Patrick, he was tempted by the Devil. Patrick bravely refused the temptation and for doing so, he was granted a wish by God. He asked that the Irish be spared the Judgement Day. Thus, the legend that Ireland will disappear under a sea seven years before the final judgment. Who will live, will tell... Patrick died on March 17th in 461 and it's supposed that his remains lay in Downpatrick in County Down in the North of Ireland.
The poem says: „...in Dublin town he built a church and on it put a steeple...“ Maybe it's referring to the Saint Patrick's Cathedral, which was built in 1191 by the Normans in the place where the saint used to preach and in his honor. The Normans actually built a stone church, but today's Cathedral is a Gothic-style church from the 13th century. With its 43-meter spire, it's the tallest church in Ireland and the largest one.
But, back to St. Patrick and his commemoration day, the 17th of March. The first celebrations of St. Patrick's Day in Ireland started in the 9th or 10th century and since then, they spread all across the globe. Maybe because of many Irish emigrants mostly in USA, Australia or elsewhere. Right there in the USA was where the first St. Patrick's Day parades started in the 18th century, to be more exact, in Boston, followed by New York City almost 30 years later.
St. Patrick's Day traditions
1) Saint Patrick's Day parade
One of the ways of celebrating Patrick's day is a parade of citizens wearing different masks and dressed in different ways. Something similar to the Carnival parade. In Cork, the parade passed through the center and along the river Lee and it lasted approximately two hours. It was led by a big mascot of St. Patrick dressed in green (although the real color connected with the saint is blue). It was then followed by the city's army, children waving from a big fireman truck, groups from different nations (we saw Hungarian „soldiers“), majorettes, different schools, mascots of the Muppet show characters, fairies, etc.
2) The wearing of the green
Although the real color of the saint is blue, the green is a symbol of Ireland and this color was spread around the world by Irish emigrants in the first modern celebrations of St. Patrick's Day. In Cork, the people on the streets were watching the parade wearing green details. There were people dressed completely in green, men with green ties, young girls with green ribbons in their hair, crowd with green party glasses from the Flying Tiger shop, etc.
The shamrock is another symbol of St. Patrick since, according to his explanations, it represents the Holy Trinity. It's also a symbol of Ireland as a country. You could see people wearing shamrock attached to their clothes during the Cork city's parade. I tried to make shamrock earrings to prepare myself for my trip, but instead, I made much cutter green four-leaf clover earrings, as a symbol of good luck, as well.
4) Dressing up in Leprechauns and wearing big hats
Leprechaun is a mythological creature that came from Irish folklore. It's usually depicted as a little red-bearded man, wearing a coat and a big hat. Leprechauns spend their time making shoes for the fairies, that like to dance, and earning pots of gold for their work, which they hide at the end of the rainbow. Since the Leprechauns are Irish mythological creatures, they are also appropriate for the St. Patrick's Day and celebration of all things Irish.
Drinking is a well-known Irish habit, especially during the celebrations. I expected that people would watch the parade with a beer in their hands, but, at least in Cork, it was forbidden to sell beer anywhere but in the pubs. So, as you can imagine, after the parade finished, the pubs were completely full (luckily, we came there early and found a seat!). It is estimated that 13 million pints of Irish famous Guinness are consumed on St. Patrick's Day, in comparison to the usual 5,5 million per day.
6) St. Patrick's Day dinner
Traditional St. Patrick's Day dinner consists of corned beef and cabbage with traditional Irish music in the background. Since I don't eat beef, I ate the second traditional Irish dish – oysters and other fish specialties: fish and chips and seafood chowder. I fell in love with the chowder. It's a creamy, buttery stew (the Irish use a lot of butter!) made from vegetables (carrots, potatoes, spring onion, ...) and different kind of fish (salmon, cod, ...) or seafood (mussels, prawns, ...) usually served with a brown bread and butter (the Irish pretty much don't eat bread without butter :P).
To conclude, it was nice to participate in St. Patrick's Day in Ireland and I had my wish come true. But as I saw, the Irish are tired of St. Patrick's Day celebrations, of commercialization the holiday, of big crowds. The people in other cities of the world are more excited about it. It's enough to mention that the largest running parade in the world is celebrated in New York City with 150 000 participants and more than 3 million spectators! The Irish have two off days to celebrate St. Patrick's Day – on 17th and 18th of March (to have time to sober up ;)). On the 18th, I was already back in Dublin and as I was walking down the streets, I heard music from almost every pub in the city. As I found out later in a pub from the people who stayed in Dublin during the weekend, the city seemed more lively on Monday the 18th than for the actual holiday. So I had no other option than to continue celebrating...