In this episode, I want to talk about St Patrick’s day! St Patrick’s day is an incredibly popular celebration of Ireland and Irish culture with events taking place around the world. However, the history of this holiday is incredibly surprising. Let’s learn about the life of St Patrick, the history of the festival, and some of the myths surrounding the events!!

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Vocabulary List

Enthralling (adj) – keeping someone’s interest and attention completely

I found your book absolutely enthralling!

Festivities (plural n) – the parties, meals, and other social activities with which people celebrate a special occasion

If you’re in Europe during winter, you should join in with the Christmas festivities!

Advocate (n) – someone who publicly supports something

He’s a strong advocate of human rights

To inhabit (v) – to live in a place

These remote islands are inhabited only by birds

To convert (v) – to change to a new religion, belief, opinion, etc., or to make someone do this

He converted to Catholicism when he got married

Mythology (n) – a popular belief that is probably not true

There is a lot of mythology surrounding the origin of that country 

To banish (v) – to send someone away, especially from their country, and not allow them to come back

He was banished to an uninhabited island for a year

To flee (v) – to escape by running away, especially because of danger or fear

In order to escape his enemies, he fled to the mountains

Misconception (n) – an idea that is wrong because it has been based on a failure to understand a situation

I’d like to clear up the common misconception that older workers don’t know how to use technology

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of unique and enthralling holidays and festivals spread around the globe. Each of these festivals and holidays have their own origin stories and interesting celebrations. Personally, I think that learning about holidays and festivals is fascinating as it can teach us a lot about different cultures. In one of the first episodes of Thinking in English I introduced a British festival known as ‘Bonfire Night’ or ’Guy Fawkes Night’ where we set off fireworks on the anniversary of a failed plot to blow up the UK’s Houses of Parliament. If you want to know more, I’ll leave a link to that episode in the description! Today I’m going to talk about a celebration that many of you will have heard of, but probably won’t know about its real history!

Every year on March 17th, the nation of Ireland and millions of people around the world celebrate St Patrick’s Day. Whether you are Irish or not, you’ve probably heard of this holiday and maybe even joined in with the festivities. St Patrick’s day is a beloved tradition in which thousands of people come together to dress in green clothes, drink Irish beer and stout, eat traditional Irish food, and celebrate being Irish and Ireland itself. This is what St Patrick’s day has become in our modern world… but how much do you really know about the day? Who was St Patrick? Why does he have a day? How is it celebrated around the world?

Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. In Chirstianity, a patron saint is regarded as the protector or advocate of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family, or person. St Patrick is probably the best known patron saint of a country. Rivalling him for the best known patron saint overal, however, is the patron saint of love: St Valentine! Although there isn’t too much evidence surrounding the story of St Patrick, there are some facts that are generally accepted. Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britain in the fifth century. He was not born in Ireland. At this time, the island of Britain was controlled by the Roman empire, and it is likely Patrick’s family were members of the Roman society rather than native Celtic people. At the age of 16, Patrick was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland as a slave. Fifth century Ireland was inhabited by Celtic pagan tribes who were Druids (the ancient religion of the British isles!).

After several years he escaped and returned to Britain, but with a love for the people of Ireland. After becoming a priest in the Catholic church, he decided to return to Ireland to convert the people of the country to Christianity. He was apparently very successful in his aims to convert the Irish! In the years following his death, the mythology around St Patricks life has become a key part of Irish culture. Perhaps the most well-known legend of St. Patrick is that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock. One of the most popular legends today is that St Patrick banished snakes from Ireland. However, although Ireland is completely free from snakes, this has probably always been the case!

Our modern day St Patrick’s day is held on March 17th – the anniversary of his death. Irish people have celebrated this day as a religious holiday for about 1000 years. However, their celebrations were nothing like our modern day festivities. Traditionally, people would visit church in the morning before holding a feast later in the day! America, not Ireland, is where many of the modern celebrations associated with St Patrick’s day started. St Patrick’s day parades are now well known events in mid March around the globe, but it is actually believed the first parade was held on March 17, 1601 in a Spanish colony in what is now St. Augustine, Florida. It was organised by an Irish vicar working in the Spanish colony. Nearly two centuries later, homesick Irish soldiers serving in the English Army marched in New York City on March 17, 1772 to honor the day. 

As more Irish people moved across the Atlantic to the Americas, Irish groups and societies began to hold annual parades involving bagpipes and drums. Nearly 1 million Irish immigrants moved to the USA in the 19th century as they fled famine in their home country. The Irish were not treated well or respected by the US: Irish people were seen as having strange accents, a strange religion, and as being violent and drunk. St Patricks’s day became an important occasion for these poorly treated immigrants to come together and celebrate! In 1848, several different New York Irish societies and organisations decided to combine their parades to create one official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This is now the largest parade in the United States, with over 150,000 participants, and 3 million people watching the five hour procession on the streets of New York! Other American cities including Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Savannah also celebrate the day with parades involving between 10,000 and 20,000 participants each. 

In addition to parades, there are now a number of different celebrations around the world. One of the most famous occurs in Chicago, where the city’s river is dyed green on March 17th. This tradition started in 1962, when they released enough vegetable dye into the river to turn it green for a whole week! Now they only use enough dye to turn it green for a few hours. Celebrations are no longer limited to just Irish immigrants, but all people, and St Patrick’s day is especially popular in the US, Canada, and Australia. Despite this, it is now an international festival with celebrations occurring in places including Singapore, Japan and Russia.  People often eat Irish soda bread, corned beef, and cabbage, and wear green on the day!

Interestingly, St Patrick’s day in Ireland has traditionally been a religious holiday. The American style celebrations didn’t arrive in Ireland until the 20th century. In fact, until the 1970s, pubs were unable to open on St Patrick’s day in Ireland. Since 1995, the Irish government has used St Patrick’s day as a way to increase tourism and promote Ireland around the world.

So, now you know all about the history of St Patrick and St Patrick’s day, as well as some of the celebrations around the world. To finish this episode, I want to talk about some of the famous misconceptions people have about the holiday. Some of them I’ve already mentioned, but I’ll recap them here! First, St Patrick was not Irish. He was also not British, as many people believe. Although he was born on the island of Britain, he was from a Roman family. In the only two surviving documents written by him, he wrote in Latin and signed his name “Patricius.” The second myth is that St Patrick was the first person to take Christianity to Ireland. He was an important part of early Irish christianity, but he was not the first person! In 431, before Patrick began preaching in Ireland, Pope Celestine reportedly sent a bishop known as Palladius “to the Irish believing in Christ” – this suggests that there were already Christians in Ireland! 

The third myth is that the colour green has always been linked to St Patrick. Despite people around the world wearing green, drinking green drinks, and Chicago dyeing its river green every year, blue was historically the colour of Ireland’s patron saint. It wasn’t until the 18th century when Irish independence supporters started to wear green! The final myth I want to talk about is concerned with corned beef. If you ask an American to name a traditional Irish food, they will almost certainly say corned beef and cabbage. While Ireland does have similar dishes, this is not the traditional food on St Patrick’s day in Ireland. Instead, a type of bacon similar to ham is the main dish on the holiday table.

Final Thought

On today’s episode, I wanted to introduce St Patrick’s day to all of you. St Patrick’s day is one of the most famous and popular celebrations around the world. Hopefully, after listening to this episode you know a little more about the history of holiday and why it is celebrated. Have you ever joined a St Patrick’s day celebration? Does your country have any interesting festivals or celebrations? What did you know about St Patrick’s day before today?

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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