St Patrick’s Day
On the 17th March every year, huge numbers of people celebrate the patron saint of Ireland in a variety of different ways. Traditionally, you should wear something green, one of the colours principally associated with Ireland. A lot of people wear strange hats, or paint themselves green. The day is celebrated in the most unlikely countries, including Argentina, Japan and Russia! This is partly because Ireland and Irish culture are very popular and, one suspects, because people all over the world only need a small excuse to have a big party!
Although St Patrick is one of the best known saints in the world, and his day is observed by nearly all the Christian churches, we know very little about the man himself. He was probably born in Roman Britain in the 5th century and when he was very young, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and sold as a slave. He escaped, converted to Christianity and eventually went back to convert the Irish. His symbol is the three-leaved shamrock, because it resembles the Holy Trinity.
Although there are big celebrations in Ireland on 17th March, including parades in Dublin and important horse races, the biggest parties are held in the United States. This is for historical reasons. In the 1840s, a terrible famine in Ireland led to mass emigration. Between 1850 and 1913 over four and a half million Irish went abroad to make a new life. Most of them went to America, where they found the custom of St Patrick’s Day had already been established by earlier settlers.
Today, it is one of the biggest party days in the USA, and in 1991 March was made Irish-American Heritage Month by Congress, which shows just how important it has become. Parades take place in dozens of American cities, the biggest being in New York City. And if you think that strange hats and painting yourself green is crazy, in the USA they even dye rivers green for the day! New York skyscrapers are lit up in green and even in Italy, the Leaning Tower of Pisa has also ‘gone green’!
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