Saint Patrick’s Day – Home away from home

Every year, on March 17 it’s St. Patrick’s Day, the patron saint of Ireland. It’s believed that is the day when Patrick died. The story tells of a young boy kidnapped in the north of England by Irish pirates for then be sold as a slave to the king of Northern Ireland. After six years, Patrick manages to escape and go to France, where St. Germain d’Auxerre consecrates him as his bishop. Later, Pope Celestine entrusts him with a very important task: evangelizing Ireland. Around him, many legends arose.

In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day started as a religious holiday, with the first parade taking place in Waterford in 1903. But only in 1995, it was declared a National Holiday. In 1997 it became a three-day event, by 2000 it was a four-day event and by 2006 the festival was five days long.

Today people celebrate it in every city and village, from Dublin to Galway via Cork and Kilkenny. It is the most important holiday of the year in the Republic of Ireland. One day dedicated to national pride, traditions, and celebrations.

The symbols of St. Patrick, as well as those associated with Ireland, are clover and green, the typical color of the island. Indeed everyone celebrates in huge parades with costumes or just dressed in green. During the parades and the traditional dances, people stop only to have a fresh beer (that in some bars could have been coloured also in green). On St. Patrick’s Day alone, people consume almost 13 million liters of Guinness, the traditional Irish beer. So everyone goes to celebrate in pubs and clubs. Fun is guaranteed!

Irish communities abroad

Since the 19th century, 10 million Irish emigrated from their country. And today more than 70 million people worldwide claim to have Irish heritage or ancestry. The number is even more impressive considering that today Ireland has a population of fewer than 5 million people.

More than 500.000 Irish immigrants, so Irish citizens or those born in Ireland, currently live in the UK, which includes Northern Ireland. Still, many more claim Irish ancestry as it is estimated that 6 million people have at least one Irish grandparent. It is around 10% of the British population.

The second biggest Irish immigrant population lives in the USA. The registered number is around 130.000 people, but more than 35 million people claim Irish ancestry. The cities hosting the biggest Irish communities are Boston, Philadelphia, and Louisville. Instead, the city with the highest percentage of Irish ancestry is Pittsburgh.

Australia is the third country for the Irish immigrant population; it hosts more than 2 million people claiming to be of Irish descent.

Well, for all these communities of Irish people living abroad, St. Patrick’s Day is the most loved and heartfelt holiday, which celebrates the strong sense of belonging to the Irish homeland. St. Patrick, in fact, represents a symbol of their national identity. This applies to all the Irish immigrant communities.

St. Patrick’s Day in Boston

This holds true especially for the Irish community in Boston. Some historians believe the first Saint Patrick’s parade originated in the city back in 1724.  Others claim it was actually born in New York City. What is certainly true is that Boston holds some of the most famous Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations and traditions in the world.

Furthermore, the 17th of March 1776 marks a very meaningful day for the city of Boston. During this day of the American Revolutionary War, the British troops had to evacuate Boston due to a storm. They sailed away and Americans could reclaim the city. The Irish community read it as a grace from Saint Patrick and the date has been even more significant for the community ever since.

Today the parade is still the main event of the festivity, gathering up to 1 million spectators. There are also celebrations in pubs, several beers, and dances all to the tune of fiddle music. 

However, this is not all there is during Saint Patrick’s Day in Boston. The Irish Heritage Trail and the Irish Film Festival are some other initiatives to promote and celebrate the Irish culture.

Some ideas to celebrate this year

Due to the Covid outbreak, both the 2020 and 2021 Saint Patrick’s Day parades have been canceled. Yet, for this year’s celebrations, there will be some online events such as the virtual South Boston St Patrick’s Day Race. And, also, the traditional Irish Film Festival will be held online. 

This year we will once again see such an interesting and joyful holiday dulled due to Covid restrictions. It will be difficult to celebrate in a traditional way. The online events could be an alternative as well as dedicate time to know more about the community and the festival and the holiday itself. What about watching a movie and celebrating at home with your family?

While researching for this article, we discovered the movie “I AM PATRICK”, a historical drama that traces the life of the saint. Through historical re-enactments, expert interviews, and Patrick’s writings, we witness the journey from the man to the saint. With this film, we can know more about his story and also try to understand how life must have been brutal at the beginning of 400 AD.

And if you want to tell the story of Saint Patrick to your children, here is the story and a beautiful leprechaun dance!

Or if you want to know more about Ireland without going into historical details, you may like watching ‘The Young Offenders’ on Netflix. This Irish comedy is inspired by the largest cocaine seizure in Ireland in 2007. 

If you want to know more about how other communities celebrate their traditional holidays away from home, check our articles:

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