In three days, the Chicago River will run green. Bulbous drunks with green fangs will take to the streets of cities polluted with bangers, mash and cabbage gas. Yes, the celebration of the death of Ireland’s patron saint is Sunday.
But who was St. Patrick besides some guy who died on March 17, 461, giving people an excuse to get smashed and put green food coloring in everything? One of the more salient legends claim he brought Christianity to Ireland and explained the Holy Trinity using the three leaves of a shamrock. Pretty impressive since I still don’t completely understand the whole Father, Son, Holy Ghost thing after years of religious studies classes and ungodly amounts of canonical paper cuts…
The Irish have observed March 17 as a religious holiday since about the 9th or 10th century. Traditionally families attended church in the morning (the day fell right in the middle of Lent season) then with Lenten prohibitions waived, they danced and feasted on cabbage and bacon. Interestingly, until the 1970s it was against the law for Irish pubs to open on St. Patrick’s Day. The amendment to the law was surely inspired by the economic gains of holiday tourism. Yet, the opening of bars might relate to folklore surrounding St. Patrick himself.
Once upon a time, St. Patrick visited an inn where the innkeeper under poured his whiskey. He called the innkeeper a welcher, proclaiming a cellar dwelling devil that fed off of his dishonesty could only be banished if the innkeeper was generous with his hooch. The innkeeper changed his ways, filling patrons’ cups to the brim. Due to the innkeeper’s new found generosity the cellar devil was banished and St. Patrick declared that everyone should drink whiskey on his feast day.
But while the Feast of St. Patrick has been observed in Ireland for over 1,000 years, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in 1762, when Irish soldiers for the English military marched through New York City. Before the Great Potato Famine of 1845, most Irish immigrants in America were middle class Protestants. When almost a million uneducated, poverty-stricken Irish Catholics escaped to America to avoid starvation their strange religion and funny accents led to their alienation. When they took to the streets on March 17, it was not seen as a celebration of Irish culture. Instead, newspapers portrayed them as violent, drunken monkeys.
Irish-Americans soon realized the strength of their growing population, organizing the “green machine,” which became an important swing vote for political hopefuls. In 1948, President Truman attended the festivities. No longer a day for drunken monkeys, the parades symbolized Irish-American solidarity and acceptance as American citizens.
On Sunday, approximately 3 million people will make a stumbling pilgrimage to New York’s 1.5 mile parade route considered the U.S.’s largest and the world’s oldest civilian parade.
St. Patrick's Day in Tuscaloosa
Innisfree, Tuscaloosa's only Irish pub won't be holding its traditional 6 a.m. Kegs and Eggs event this year since Sunday alcohol sales are only allowed between noon and 9:30. But if you forget to stock your home bar before Sunday I recommend attending The Children's Hands on Museum's 7th annual Duck Derby at the University of Alabama's Outdoor pool.
Tickets are $5
First Place: $2,000
Second Place: $1,000
Third Place: $500
Plus a chance to win $100,000!