I had been planning on writing something about a well-known cultural event, celebrated pretty much all over the world. I filtered all my options and preferences down to 5 options and picked a random one out of those 4. I ended up with St. Patrick’s day (if the title didn’t already give it away).
Saint Patrick’s Day, or also known as the Feast of Saint Patrick, is celebrated annually on 17 March, the death date of the most commonly recognized patron saint of Ireland; Saint Patrick.
Celebrations often involve public parades and festivals and wearing of green clothes and/or accessories or shamrocks. Christians also attend church services, and the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for the day, which has encouraged the holiday’s tradition of alcohol consumption. Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Newfoundland and Labrador and Montserrat. It is also widely celebrated by the Irish people around the world; especially in Britain, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.
Traditions and folkore:
The Shamrock: The shamrock, which was also called the “seamroy” by the Celts, was a sacred plant in ancient Ireland because it symbolized the rebirth of spring. By the 17th century, the shamrock had become a symbol of emerging Irish nationalism. As the English began to seize Irish land and make laws against the use of the Irish language and the practice of Catholicism, many Irish began to wear the shamrock as a symbol of their pride in their heritage and their displeasure with English rule.
Music is often associated with St. Patrick’s Day, and Irish culture in general. From ancient days of the Celts, music has always been an important part of Irish life. The Celts had an oral culture, where religion, legend and history were passed from one generation to the next by way of stories and songs. After being conquered by the English, and forbidden to speak their own language, the Irish, like other oppressed peoples, turned to music to help them remember important events and hold on to their heritage and history. As it often move their emotions and helped to stimulate people, music was outlawed by the English. During her reign, Queen Elizabeth I even decreed that all artists and pipers were to be arrested and hanged on the spot.
Today, traditional Irish bands like The Chieftains, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem are gaining worldwide popularity. Their music is produced with instruments that have been used for centuries, including the fiddle, the uilleann pipes, the tin whistle and the bodhran.
It has long been recounted that, during his mission in Ireland, St. Patrick once stood on a hilltop (which is now called Croagh Patrick), and with only a wooden staff by his side, banished all the snakes from Ireland.
In fact, the island nation was never home to any snakes. The “banishing of the snakes” was really a metaphor for the eradication of pagan ideology from Ireland and the triumph of Christianity. Within 200 years of Patrick’s arrival, Ireland was completely Christianized.
Each year, thousands of Irish Americans gather with their loved ones on St. Patrick’s Day to share a “traditional” meal of corned beef and cabbage.
Though cabbage has long been an Irish food, corned beef only began to be associated with St. Patrick’s Day at the turn of the century. Irish immigrants living on New York City’s Lower East Side substituted corned beef for their traditional dish of Irish bacon to save money. They learned about the cheaper alternative from their Jewish neighbours.
The original Irish name for these figures of folklore is “lobaircin,” meaning “small-bodied fellow.”
Belief in leprechauns probably originated from Celtic belief in fairies, tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. In Celtic folktales, leprechauns were cranky souls, responsible for mending the shoes of the other fairies. Though only minor figures in Celtic folklore, leprechauns were known for their trickery, which they often used to protect their much-fabled treasure; their pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow.
Dishes and Irish specialties:
Everyone is a little bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day! Now you can cook like it too. Saint Patrick’s Day is a day for celebrating Irish history and tradition. Below is a selection of classic Irish recipes, and a few modern variations, for you to maybe try out on Saint Patrick’s Day.
Irish Soda Bread with Raisins:
- Non-stick vegetable oil spray
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 5 tablespoons sugar, divided
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into cubes
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2/3 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray 8-inch-diameter cake pan with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, 4 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Add butter. Using fingertips, rub in until coarse meal forms. Make well in center of flour mixture. Add buttermilk. Gradually stir dry ingredients into milk to blend. Mix in raisins.
Using floured hands, shape dough into ball. Transfer to prepared pan and flatten slightly (dough will not come to edges of pan). Sprinkle dough with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.
Bake bread until brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool bread in pan 10 minutes. Transfer to rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Corned Beef and Cabbage:
- 5 pounds corned brisket of beef
- 6 peppercorns, or packaged pickling spices
- 3 carrots, peeled and quartered
- 3 onions, peeled and quartered
- 1 medium-sized green cabbage, quartered or cut in wedges Melted butter (about 4 tablespoons)
Place the corned beef in water to cover with the peppercorns or mixed pickling spices (in supermarkets, these often come packaged with the corned beef). Cover the pot or kettle, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 hours or until tender, skimming occasionally. During the last hour, add the carrots and onions and cover again. During the last 15 minutes, add the cabbage. Transfer meat and vegetables to a platter and brush the vegetables with the melted butter. Serve with boiled parsley potatoes, cooked separately. (The stock can be saved to add to a pot roast or stew instead of other liquid.)
- 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
- 1 bunch green onions, sliced (about 1 1/3 cups)
Cook potatoes in pot of boiling salted water until very tender, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, bring cream and butter to simmer in heavy small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. Mix in green onions. Remove from heat. Cover and let steep while potatoes cook.
Drain potatoes thoroughly. Return potatoes to same pot and mash. Add cream mixture and stir until blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Cover; let stand at room temperature. Rewarm over low heat, stirring often.)