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St. Patrick’s Day is one of the most dangerous days of the year to be on the road — even for those who are driving sober. Despite the 200 alcohol-related driving incidents over a 4-year period on that day alone, St. Paddy’s drinking culture continues to rise. On this day of green festivities, Addiction Center explores how drinking became associated with the death of a European saint — and the many ways we can all celebrate without it.
The History of Saint Patrick
St. Patrick was actually British, but kidnapped by the Irish when he was 16. He was held in captivity for 11 years, during which time he rediscovered his Christian faith. His goal for when he was finally freed was to bring Christianity to Ireland. There are a lot of other contributions said to be the work of St. Patrick, from ridding Ireland of snakes to using the shamrock to explain the holy trinity. However, his main accomplishment was succeeding in his goal and bringing Christianity to the pagan Irish of the time.
There is an old Irish legend that is said to be the origin of drinking on St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick ordered some whiskey and came across a stingy innkeeper. To teach the innkeeper of generosity, St. Patrick tells him that a demon possesses his cellar and feeds off of his dishonesty. Much later, St. Patrick returns to the same place seeing that the innkeeper was overflowing patron’s glasses. St. Patrick was able to then banish the demon, proclaiming that everyone should have some of “the hard stuff” on his dying day.
His death on March 17 was marked as a day of remembrance. On this day, Christians were allowed to indulge in food and drink restrictions set by the Lent tradition. Thus, a drinking culture was formed. When the Irish started migrating to America centuries later, this marked a day of celebration of their Irish heritage. In Ireland, bars were known for being closed on the anniversary of St. Patrick’s death out of respect. It wasn’t until the 1970s that they started opening their bars, after a mass of requests and an opportunity to make money was realized.
The first true celebration started as a “protest” of sorts due to the low-class situations of the Irish immigrants in Boston in 1737. The pride caught on to the rest of the country, where parades and celebrations became the normal customs for this day.
Alternative Ways to Celebrate
If you want to celebrate your Irish or wanna-be Irish roots, here are some fun, safe, and alternative ways to participate this year:
- Set leprechaun traps. Elementary schools and families sometimes make “leprechaun traps” out of shoeboxes as a fun activity to try and catch a leprechaun. Leprechaun comes from the Irish word “leipreachan” which translates to a small person, similar to a sprite. In Irish folklore, leprechauns mend shoes, collect gold and pull pranks.
- Kiss an Irish person. Everyone has seen the “Kiss me, I’m Irish” t-shirts. This originated from the luck that is supposed to be brought from kissing the Blarney Stone. If you can’t kiss the stone then your next best option is to kiss an Irish person.
- Wear green. Most people understand that if you are not wearing any green on St. Patrick’s day then you are at risk of being pinched. There are many theories as to why
green is associated with St. Patrick’s Day, from green being on the Irish flag to it being color of the shamrock. In Irish folklore, green was a color that would make you invisible to leprechauns. If you were wearing any other color, you would be seen and pinched by the mischievous creatures. America started the tradition to be a fun reminder of some Irish history.
- Eat corned beef. Another Americanized tradition, but with some definite Irish influence. In Ireland they would eat Irish bacon on March 17th; however, when the Irish first migrated to the United States, they worked as lower class citizens. Jewish immigrants introduced corned beef as a cheap alternative to finer meats.
- Pick clovers. It is said that St. Patrick would use a three-leaf clover to explain the holy trinity to the Irish. Because the ratio of four-leafed clovers to three leafed-clovers is 1 to 10,000, it is considered lucky if you find a four-leaf. Each leaf stands for something different: hope, faith, love and luck.
While somewhere along the way St. Patrick’s Day became a day to drink, the origins illustrate the amazing history of a culture. Whether you are Irish or not, there are many sober ways to celebrate a fun and festive day with friends and family.
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