In a public middle school in California, if one is not dressed in a spot of green, you may expect to have to dodge a poke. Across the Pacific in Japan, one might see the green, white, and orange colors of Eire, the Republic of Ireland. As they used to say about the sun never setting on the British Empire, it would seem that during 17 March the magic of the Irish is worldwide. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in various parts of the world and beyond.
In Europe, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Great Britain, Denmark, Eire, Moscow, and Spain. The Japanese celebrated it in the holy city of Ise, with a parade of leprechauns. It is actually an eight day celebration in Brisbane, Australia and a family sports day. Auckland, New Zealand celebrates it with the Emerald Ball, a formal event, and Gaelic football the next day.
Argentina was a refuge for Irishmen escaping persecution in previous centuries. Buenas Aires celebrates with a parade and festivities similar to the parades in Boston and new York in the United States. Montserrat is a Caribbean island with a small population of Irish descendants but also the home of a slave rebellion in 1768. Both the Irish holiday and the anniversary of the slave rebellion are celebrated on 17 March. Like most celebrations, Canada’s celebration includes parades, dancing, music, and food.
Probably the largest celebrations are staged in the United States and Canada. The United States Bureau of the Census records 34.5 million people claiming Irish ancestry in the U.S. Ireland itself is home to only 6.4 million (including both Eire’s and Ulster’s populations), as of 2011. In addition to St. Patrick’s Day itself being celebrated, March has been “Irish-American Heritage Month since 1995.
St. Patrick himself was a Roman born in Britannia (now Britain) in the 4th century and died 17 March 460ad. He was kidnapped as a teenager and ended up somewhere on the coast of Ireland. He was a shepherd for about six years, but escaped, returning to Britannia. He is reported to have had two angelic visions (one before returned to Britain and once afterward. He became a Christian priest, returning to Ireland to minister to Christians already there, and also to engage in missionary work. After he died, he was never canonized, yet is recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint. He picked the shamrock as a symbol of the Trinity since it has three leaves—representative of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. St. Patrick’s Day in Eire is a religious holiday, celebrating a saint and his work there, but as Irish people left Ireland for America (North and South) and elsewhere, the holiday became one of parades, parties, and celebration. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was in New York in 1762; since then its celebration has spread around the world and even into space.