Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Today is the day that the world is Irish, or at least the day everyone celebrates the life of a Christian saint in their own special way.  Like Saint Nicholas, Saint Patrick is a Christian patron Saint.  Like Nicholas, Patrick has origins most don’t know.  Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, but he was not Irish!  Patrick was born to Roman parents living as occupiers in the British colonies.  He was actually born in Scotland (sure to be a helpful bit of trivia to Scots when arguing with the Irish in a pub).  Patrick was captured when he was about 14 years old and taken to Ireland to serve as a slave.  He tended to the sheep and helped herd the animals.  While there he learned much about the druids and the pagans that were common in the country.  Six years later he escaped and fled back to Britain.  He supposedly had dreams after that of the Irish people calling him back.  Patrick had a calling and became a priest, later rising to the role of Bishop.  In 433 he was assigned to spread the word in Ireland and returned to the emerald isle.  Patrick preached to all and converted nearly the entire population.  He had many disciples and many of them became saints as well.  One of the stories of the time of St. Patrick tells how he used the shamrock to explain the trinity to the people.  This may well be true since it was a familiar plant to the pagans who used it as a symbolic plant to represent the rebirth of life each spring.  It was also a symbol of the druid/pagan triple goddess.  There are many myths connect to the life of St. Patrick, probably with the lives of many saints.  Biggest myth is that he drove the snakes from Ireland.  Didn’t happen- no snakes in Ireland to drive out!

We’ve been discussing all week how the Irish celebrate Christmas so I thought we might look briefly at how they celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  In America the day is spent with loud, raucous parades and festivals, mostly centered on drinking beer, green or otherwise.  Get your green clothes, green hair dye, green bagels, and green rivers ready (St. Pat’s color was originally blue FYI).  The food for our American celebration of the Irish saint?  Corned beef and cabbage of course!  In Ireland the day is a religious holiday and a holy day of obligation to the devout.  Most Irish go to church and spend time with family and friends.  Some large cities have parades today, mainly in response to the American celebrations held over the last century.  The Irish meal will center on bacon and roasted chicken.  No green light-up blinky hats, no sparkly green beads or glasses, no green mugs hung on a string around your neck.

Time to make a connection to Christmas right?  Well here’s my hint for tying our American celebration of the Irish to Christmas. Now is the time to buy!  Buy all those great green items you can to save for Christmas use.  While I was out today I saw lots of things I will go back to get tomorrow on sale.  There were great green plates, napkins, and plastic utensils.  There were some nice green table linens and serving trays/bowls.  I even had my eye on some green decorative sugar and cupcake wrappers.  There were some cute little green clothes for the kids too.  These could be bought as gifts for the holidays- just need to add the months to the age to know what size to buy.  The trick is to remember you have all these March bargains when it gets to be December.

Countdown Podcast #12- 286 Days to Go!

Éirinn go Brách!– Click to hear this week’s podcast 

This week we kick off an Irish week of Christmas traditions and practices.  Today we discuss the Irish timeline for Christmas.  It all starts on December 8th- a National Holiday.  Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are full of church, friends, food, pudding pie, and swimming??  Yes, swimming!  Up next is a day with wrens and horses and it all wraps up on January 6th with a day to celebrate women.  Most intriguing to us today was the pudding pie and mince meat pies.  We even attempted to purchase a treat at the local British store before tonight’s recording.  Unfortunately all that was available were some beef pies and that didn’t work.  Guess we’ll be making one from scratch!

Nollaig Shona Dhuit! (Say what?)

That’s Merry Christmas in Gaelic!  To be honest the literal translation lines up better with Happy Christmas.  The Irish, like the Brits, tend towards Happy for their Christmas.  I like this and might try it out this December!  In honor of St. Patrick’s Day we will focus on some Irish Christmas information and traditions this week.  Let’s start with some basics.  Christmas in Ireland is celebrated much as in the rest of Europe.  There does tend to be a stronger emphasis on the religious aspects of the holiday due to the strong Catholic presence in Ireland.  The high focus of the season lasts from Christmas Eve through Epiphany.  Santa visits the children in Ireland and is known as Santy.  Treats are left out for him on Christmas Eve but no milk and cookies!  Mince meat pie and Guinness for Santy and carrots for the reindeer.  Family, song, and hearty meals fill the celebrations of most throughout the season.  The Irish place great emphasis on dessert including cakes, pies, yule logs, and puddings.  Some of these are coated in rich sauces and may even be lit on fire for special celebrations.  On Christmas Eve it is tradition in Ireland for small white candles or electric lights to be placed in the windows of the home.  These are a sign of welcome to family, travelers and even strangers!  Symbolically welcoming the christ child as well.  Midnight mass is very important.  Gifts are exchanged on Christmas morning.  One Irish speciality for Christmas morning is the swim.  Throughout Ireland the hearty take part in a plunge into the sea Christmas morning.  Today the swims are mostly organized to benefit a local charity in the town or village where the swim occurs.  Diving into the freezing North Atlantic or Irish Sea is a task for only the hearty!  There are a few other great Irish events I will share in detail in later posts.  Whitewashing and the Wrenboy procession merit more in-depth discussion.  We will also talk about some Irish music, food, and other bits o’ knowledge.