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Opinion

Saint Patrick’s Day evolves from Irish holiday to worldwide festival

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March 14, 2013

Spring is just around the corner, we hope so anyway, which also means a long list of spring holidays are coming up fast.

One that is happening this weekend is one that we can all enjoy: Saint Patrick’s Day. Even if there is still a foot of snow on the ground and temperatures barely above freezing, the arrival and celebration of St. Patrick’s Day is a day to have fun and anxiously await the warmer months ahead. Not only is the holiday a day for fun, but it also has a rich historical background that is often overlooked. The history of the holiday is what helped it evolve into what it is today.

St. Patrick’s Day is also referred to as the Feast of St. Patrick, a day which has both cultural and religious roots from Irish customs. St. Patrick is one of the most famous patron saints in Irish history. Large celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day began in the 17th Century as a holy obligation for Roman Catholics and then celebrated with a large feast, though some Irish already celebrated the holiday since the ninth and 10th Centuries. The earliest celebrations helped St. Patrick become one of the most famous patrons in Ireland. The celebration was made more popular in the 17th Century as a way of celebrating the arrival of Christianity in Ireland and commemorating St. Patrick. Several different Christian denominations, including the Lutheran church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, took part in the celebration.

Because of the slew of religious holidays around this time of year, St. Patrick’s Day religious celebrations have often been moved to another date. Most often, this decision was in order to avoid Holy Week, which is where Palm Sunday falls. Fortunately, this change in dates will not occur again until 2160. Today, secular celebrations are most common among countries, and those celebrations are kept on March 17, despite an interference with Holy Week. St. Patrick’s Day did not become an official public holiday in Ireland until 1903.

The Bank Holiday Act 1903 was put into effect by the United Kingdom Parliament after Irish member James O’Mara introduced the act. Ironically enough, it was passed to close pubs and bars on March 17, as the drinking often got out of control with secular celebrations already taking place. The act was repealed in the 1970s as a way to enforce the law and to keep people out of trouble. In 1931, the first celebration of the holiday was held with Ireland as a free state from Great Britain.

The Irish government finally recognized the secular celebration of the national holiday. They set up a campaign in order to bring the world in to observe the country and its rich culture. A St. Patrick’s Day Festival was created in order to draw attention from other countries and create excitement about the holiday. The first festival was held in 1996 in Dublin and has grown into a several day event over the years.

Thousands of people attend each year to attend concerts, theater performances and fireworks. The festival also features Gaelic speakers as a part of Irish Language Week. The festival, as well as several other festivals and parades in the country, intend to focus on the general Irish way of living rather than on old religious customs. Religious leaders, however, that argued that secular celebrations, including drinking, raise concern. Religious leaders strive to have a church festival, which would bring the religion and the fun celebrations together into one.

Though the holiday began to celebrate Christianity and the Irish people, it has reached several parts of the globe and various different groups of people. There are many ways to enjoy the holiday without having to drink or party. The day can be celebrated by simply looking forward to spring and putting the long winter behind them. While it is a great day to have fun, it is also important to remember the day’s roots and how it evolved into the celebration known today.

Cristin Dempsey is an English major and music minor from Eagan, Minn. She enjoys writing, playing the flute and swimming. After college she would like to pursue a career as an editor.