Thursday, March 17, 2011

Obligatory St. Patrick's Day Post

Another holiday is here since I last posted (for real). Whew, time has been flying, life has been hectic and my cooking and creativity have really taken a hit. However, I think I’m getting my “mojo” back as this day o’ green is inspiring me to get back into the kitchen. 

Yesterday, as I was making sure my boys had something green to wear to school today, it struck me that I had no idea about the origins of the holiday. All I know is that you wear green and leprechauns are everywhere – and there are pots of gold, shamrocks and green beer. I love how we Americans take other country’s holidays and turn them into an excuse to sell things and party!

The typical crazy St. Patrick's Day leprechuan.
Last night I asked my husband who St. Patrick was exactly.“I think he’s the guy who chased snakes out of Ireland,” he said. What?? I immediately thought of The Simpson’s hilarious "Snake Whacking Day" episode from a million years ago. (I digress.) Compelled by the mystery of St. Patrick, I turn to my trusty friend Google. Come to find out, my husband is not crazy. There is a legend about St. Patrick chasing snakes out of Ireland. However, Ireland had no snakes and scholars say the myth likely developed to explain his role in ridding Ireland of “evil” pagan practices (evil=snakes in Christian symbolism).

St. Patrick was a priest and missionary who helped to spread Christianity in Ireland in the 5th century C.E. However, did you know St. Patrick was not even Irish? He was born in Britain to a wealthy family around 390 C.E. As a teenager, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and held as a slave in Ireland for six years. During that time, he turned to Christianity. He returned to Britain and received religious training, but had a revelation to return to Ireland to bring Christianity to the Irish, who were still largely practicing paganism. It is believed he used the three-leafed clover, or shamrock, as a visual aide to explain the holy trinity.

An artistic interpretation of the real St. Patrick.
Centuries after his death, which supposedly took place on March 17th, he would be honored as Ireland’s patron saint. St. Patrick’s Day was a religious holiday and feast day. In fact, bars in Ireland were even closed in observance of the holiday until the 1970s! The parades, green beer, leprechaun chasing, shamrock wearing aspects of the holiday are largely American in origin. Not to say they aren’t culturally significant, however, as Irish immigrants embraced the holiday as an expression of national pride. The day has come to commemorate all things Irish, not just St. Patrick.

History lesson aside (sorry, I love this stuff) – what are food traditions associated with St. Patrick’s Day? Well, good Irish folks supposedly went to church in the morning on St. Patrick’s Day and had a celebration in the afternoon. Lenten restrictions were waived for the day, and families could enjoy a traditional meal of cabbage and Irish bacon. Corned beef is an American adaption and is not really eaten in Ireland.

Now I must hit the kitchen and work on an Irish-themed feast for our family tonight. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do – but I do have two sticks of butter sitting out to soften. I think shortbread will be in the mix! I’ll post tomorrow with the results, but thought I should go ahead and post my little history lesson for anyone else who may be wondering who in the heck St. Patrick is. I’d love to hear what you have cooking, and may the luck o’ the Irish be with you today!


  1. Rachel,
    I loved this blog posting! Thanks for setting us all straight. I had always been suspect of the American celebration of this day. Kind of like us celebrating Cinco de Mayo. =) Looking forward to reading about your irish themed meal!


  2. It's interesting that you mention that corned beef is an American adaptation - I have an Irish cookbook (which was actually published in Great Britain)that states that it was traditionally served at Easter but has more recently become associated with St. Patrick's Day. I wonder what "more recently" means. Nonetheless, I love my corned beef and will continue to make it every March 17:-).

  3. @Niki - I should have said corned beef was an Irish-American adaptation. I think "more recently" means the mid-1850s when there was a big wave of Irish immigration because of the potato famine. I read in several places that Irish immigrants began to sub corned beef for pork because it was inexpensive and readily available at Jewish delis. All the immigrants lived together in tenament housing, so the cultural exchange makes sense (and is pretty cool). So, eat your corned beef -- it's still an old tradition -- just not totally Irish! :)