St. Patrick’s Day is not just about leprechauns and beer, the real reason for St Patrick’s Day is centuries old and definitely worth remembering. Originally a religious holiday, March 17th was put aside in recognition of St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, and the work he did in converting pagans to Christianity. Nowadays however, the national holiday is used to celebrate all things Irish, and people all over the world join in the fun.
The Origins of St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick was the second bishop of Ireland, and spent 30 years spreading the Christian message to the Irish people. He was a passionate priest, and was so successful at converting people to Christianity, that the Celtic Druids arrested him several times in an effort to stop his work. Each time he escaped, St. Patrick would go on to set up more schools, churches and monasteries, which would in turn make the Christian movement stronger in Ireland.
Eventually St. Patrick retired, and died on 17 March 461AD. From then on Irish Catholics set aside the anniversary of his death as a religious holiday, and used it to commemorate his work. It soon became a Christian festival celebrated in the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, and various other denominations.
How is St. Patrick’s Day celebrated?
For centuries St. Patrick’s Day was only observed as a religious holiday, but in 1903 it was passed as a public holiday through the United Kingdom Parliament. However even though the day was made ‘public’, the date was still only observed for its religious reasons. It was not until the mid-1990’s that the Irish Government began a campaign to use St. Patrick’s Day as a day to celebrate all things Irish, and the first St. Patrick’s Day festival was held on 17 March 1996.
The festival was set up by the Irish Government with the aim of offering a national festival that ranked amongst the greatest celebrations in the world. They also wanted to use the festival as a way of projecting, internationally, an image of Ireland being a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal. Their campaign was successful, and now people of both Irish and non-Irish descent celebrate St. Patrick’s Day all over the world.
St. Patrick’s Day parades are held in Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Russia, and the United States, but while other countries may not have parades, they certainly celebrate the day. Celebrations revolve around anything Irish, and usually involve drinking alcohol – particularly Guinness. Because of this, Irish pubs always do a roaring trade, but in the last few years more family orientated activities have also been organised.
Ideas for Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with your Family
- Attend a St. Patrick’s Day Event. St. Patrick’s Day festivals, activities and events are always lots of fun, with plenty of food, music, dancing and entertainment. To find out which St. Patrick’s Day activities are happening in your area, see our list of events and useful websites below. There are plenty of family friendly events that don’t involve the consumption of copious quantities of Guinness!
- Make an Irish Dinner. Introduce your children to Irish cuisine by cooking up a good old-fashioned Irish stew with plenty of cabbage and potatoes. If that doesn’t seem like ‘celebration’ food, why not have a green party with lime cordial, kiwifruit slices, melon, mint leaf lollies, and green ice cream and jelly.
- Create an ‘End of the Rainbow’ Treasure Hunt. Make a ‘pot of gold’ to hide in your backyard and have your children solve clues to find it. Create a clue for every colour of the rainbow.
- Kick Up Your Heels. Find some Irish music and have a good knees-up. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know all the right steps, just get jigging.
- Become a Comedian. Younger children may not appreciate Irish humour, but teenagers certainly will. Rustle up some good Irish jokes and have your very own comedy fest.
- Go Green. Get a bit silly, and put a little Irish colour into your day. Wear green clothes, spray your hair with green glitter, or make some green cupcakes for your children’s lunch box.
- The Luck of the Irish. The Irish are known for their luck, so why not get creative with your children and make some lucky charms. You could use natural treasures from the bush or beach, or get all sparking with glitter and beads. If all else fails, go hunting for a 3 leafed Shamrock.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
The NZ Irish Directory has a great list of events around the country and links to other useful websites.
The Auckland St Patricks Festival official website.