“Top O’ the morning to you!” A traditional Irish greeting whose proper response is “ and the rest of the day to yourself.” Just the thought of it brings a smile and memories of years and years of wearing green and eating corned beef and cabbage. As I sent out photo invitations to my annual St. Patrick’s day celebration I wondered how we came to a food and drink celebration in honor of a man who by all accounts was a devoutly religious man who spent his life in prayer and spreading Christianity. Armed with my curiosity, I did some research and found some interesting facts about St. Patrick and his feast day.
St. Patrick was born around 385 in England to a wealthy and high standing roman family. He was captured at the age of 16 by Irish raiders and sold into slavery to high priest of Druidism, a pagan sect that was the ruling religious influence in Ireland. As he worked as a shepherd he spent much time in prayer for guidance and so became more devote in his Christianity. He had a vision that the children of Pagan Ireland were reaching out their hands to him. In time he became increasingly determined to convert the children he had a dream that impressed on him the need to escape his enslavement. Finding his way back to England he devoted his next few years to learning and eventually was sent to Ireland by the Pope as a missionary bishop to convert Ireland to Christianity. Nobody can imagine that this was an easy task, but apparently his mission was blessed for he survived many trials and converted Ireland to Christianity before his death on March 17, 461. Thus making him the most celebrated of saints in the world. Around the ninth or tenth century March 17 was celebrated as a holy day of obligation for the Catholics of Ireland, although the day is also celebrated by the Anglican Communion, Eastern Orthodox and the Lutheran church. The traditional celebration which comes during the Lenten period would be to attend mass in the morning and eat and drink in the afternoon since the Lenten prohibitions were suspended for this one day. The traditional meal was Irish bacon and cabbage.
Oddly enough the first parade on this day was not held in Ireland, but in the United States. In 1762 Irish soldiers serving in the English army marched through New York City which helped them connect with their Irish roots. As Irish societies sprang up they joined together and in 1848 united their parades and so was born what is considered the largest St. Patrick’s parade in the world and certainly the oldest and largest in the U.S. Parades are not limited to New York and Ireland now but to many places around the globe, such as Japan, Singapore, Russia, England and Canada. What started out as a celebration of one man’s dedication to his faith has turned into a celebration of all things Irish. Or maybe it is the celebration of how one small nation has sent from it’s shore it’s sons and daughters to spread a natural love of food, dance and a little religion mixed in to the four corners of the earth.
In celebration of St. Patrick and all that he has inspired I will be celebrating once again on March 17, eating corned beef and cabbage, wearing green and singing the words of the old Irish song:
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand