March 17 commemorates Saint Patrick, the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. In addition, this day also celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general.
Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, céilithe (Irish traditional music sessions), and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. There are also formal gatherings such as banquets and dances, although these were more common in the past. St Patrick’s Day parades began in North America in the 18th century but did not spread to Ireland until the 20th century.
The participants generally include marching bands, the military, fire brigades, cultural organisations, charitable organisations, voluntary associations, youth groups, fraternities, and so on. However, over time, many of the parades have become more akin to a carnival. More effort is made to use the Irish language; especially in Ireland, where the week of St Patrick’s Day is “Irish language week”. Recently, famous landmarks have been lit up in green on St Patrick’s Day.
Christians also attend church services and the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for the day. Perhaps because of this, drinking alcohol – particularly Irish whiskey, beer or cider – has become an integral part of the celebrations.
The St Patrick’s Day custom of ‘drowning the shamrock‘ or ‘wetting the shamrock‘ was historically popular, especially in Ireland. At the end of the celebrations, shamrock is put into the bottom of a cup, which is then filled with whiskey, beer or cider. It is then drank as a toast; to St Patrick, to Ireland, or to those present. The shamrock would either be swallowed with the drink, or be taken out and tossed over the shoulder for good luck.
In every household the herb is placed upon the breakfast table of the master and the mistress, who “drown the shamrock” in generous draughts of whiskey, and then send the bottle down into the kitchen for the servants.
On St Patrick’s Day it is customary to wear shamrocks and/or green clothing or accessories (the “wearing of the green”). St Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. This story first appears in writing in 1726, though it may be older.
Long before the shamrock became associated with St. Patrick’s Day, the four-leaf clover was regarded by ancient Celts as a charm against evil spirits.
In pagan Ireland, three was a significant number and the Irish had many triple deities, a fact that may have aided St Patrick in his evangelisation efforts. Patricia Monaghan says there is no evidence that the shamrock was sacred to the pagan Irish. However, Jack Santino speculates that it may have represented the regenerative powers of nature, and was recast in a Christian context—icons of St Patrick often depict the saint “with a cross in one hand and a sprig of shamrocks in the other”. Roger Homan writes, “We can perhaps see St Patrick drawing upon the visual concept of the triskele when he uses the shamrock to explain the Trinity”.
In the early 1900’s, O. H. Benson, an Iowa school superintendent, came up with the idea of using a clover as the emblem for a newly founded agricultural club for children in his area. In 1911, the four-leaf clover was chosen as the emblem for the national club program, later named 4-H.
The color green has been associated with Ireland since at least the 1640’s, when the green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation. Green ribbons and shamrocks have been worn on St Patrick’s Day since at least the 1680s. The Friendly Brothers of St Patrick, an Irish fraternity founded in about 1750, adopted green as its color.
However, when the Order of St. Patrick—an Anglo-Irish chivalric order—was founded in 1783 it adopted blue as its color, which led to blue being associated with St Patrick. During the 1790’s, green would become associated with Irish nationalism, due to its use by the United Irishmen. This was a republican organisation—led mostly by Protestants but with many Catholic members—who launched a rebellion in 1798 against British rule.
The phrase “wearing of the green” comes from a song of the same name, which laments United Irishmen supporters being persecuted for wearing green. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the color green and its association with St Patrick’s Day grew.
The wearing of the ‘St Patrick’s Day Cross’ was also a popular custom in Ireland until the early 20th century. These were a Celtic Christian cross made of paper that was “covered with silk or ribbon of different colors, and a bunch or rosette of green silk in the center”.
The most popular of the many legends about St. Patrick is the one which credits him for having driven all the snakes and vermin out of Ireland.
Here’s an old old poem about it:
There’s not a mile in Ireland’s isle
where the dirty vermin musters;
Where’er he put his dear forefoot
he murdered them in clusters.
The toads went hop, the frogs went flop,
slap dash into the water,
And the beasts committed suicide to
save themselves from slaughter.
Nine hundred thousand vipers blue
he charmed with sweet discourses.
And dined on them at Killaloo
in soups and second courses.
When blindworms crawling on the grass
disgusted all the nation,
He gave them a rise and opened their eyes
to a sense of the situation.
The Wicklow Hills are very high, and
so’s the Hill of Howth, sir;
But there’s a hill much higher still—ay,
higher than them both, sir;
‘Twas on the top of this high hill St.
Patrick preached the sarmint
That drove the frogs into the bogs and
bothered all the varmint.
About St Patrick
Patrick was a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. Much of what is known about Saint Patrick comes from the Declaration, which was allegedly written by Patrick himself. It is believed that he was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church.
According to the Declaration, at the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. ] It says that he spent six years there working as a shepherd and that during this time he “found God”. The Declaration says that God told Patrick to flee to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him home. After making his way home, Patrick went on to become a priest.
According to tradition, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. The Declaration says that he spent many years evangelising in the northern half of Ireland and converted “thousands”. Patrick’s efforts against the druids were eventually turned into an allegory in which he drove “snakes” out of Ireland (Ireland never had any snakes).
Tradition holds that he died on 17 March and was buried at Downpatrick. Over the following centuries, many legends grew up around Patrick and he became Ireland’s foremost saint.
What many people don’t realize is that the serpent was actually a metaphor for the early Pagan faiths of Ireland. St. Patrick brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle, and did such a good job of it that he practically eliminated Paganism from the country. Because of this, some modern Pagans refuse to observe a day which honors the elimination of the old religion in favor of a new one. It’s not uncommon to see Pagans and Wiccans wearing some sort of snake symbol on St. Patrick’s Day, instead of those green “Kiss Me I’m Irish” badges.
- Colors: red, green, white
- Plants: Daffodils, leeks
- Activities: Send flowers, attend concerts, host a dinner party
Saint David’s Day is the feast day of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, and falls on 1 March each year. The date of 1 March was chosen in remembrance of the death of Saint David on that day in 589, and has been celebrated by followers since then. The date was declared a national day of celebration within Wales in the 18th century.
The 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys noted how Welsh celebrations in London for St David’s day would spark wider counter-celebrations among their English neighbors: life-sized effigies of Welshmen were symbolically lynched, and by the 18th century the custom had arisen of confectioners producing ‘Taffies’ – gingerbread figures baked in the shape of a Welshman riding a goat – on St David’s Day.
In 2003 in the United States, St. David’s Day was recognized officially as the national day of the Welsh, and on 1 March the Empire State Building was floodlit in the national colors, red, green and white. It is invariably celebrated by Welsh societies throughout the world with dinners, parties, recitals and concerts.
To celebrate this day, people wear a symbol of either a leek, or daffodil. The leek arises from an occasion when a troop of Welsh were able to distinguish each other from a troop of English enemy dressed in similar fashion by wearing leeks. An alternative emblem developed in recent years is the daffodil.
Gobnait is Irish for Abigail which means “Brings Joy”. As the patron saint of beekeepers, her name also has been anglicized as Deborah, meaning “Honey Bee.” This Irish saint is a version of the deity Domna, patroness of sacred stones and cairns. The center of her worship was at Ballybourney, Co. Cork, Ireland.
Her feast day, February 11 is called “Pattern Day” in the parishes of Dún Chaoin and in Baile Bhúirne, and is regarded as both holiday and holy day. In one tradition, a medieval wooden carving of Gobnait, about two feet high, kept in a church drawer during the year, is brought out. Parishioners bring a ribbon to ”measure” the statue. This ribbon is then taken home to use when special blessings are needed.
July 26, is the Feast of St. Anne, Mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus.
Shellfish and lobster are served in France for their Saint Anne’s Day, July 26th. The most celebrated sight of St. Anne feast day is the annual ten day Saint Ann’s Solemn Novena made at Saint Ann’s Monastery Church at the Shrine of St. Ann de Beaupre in Quebec, Canada. The ten day novena begins on July 16 ends on July 26th, the feast of St Ann.
Patron Anne intervenes against poverty and for cabinetmakers; carpenters; childless couples; equestrians; grandmothers; grandparents; homemakers; housewives; miners; mothers; pregnancy; pregnant women; and women in labor.
If you fall into the above categories, this might be a good day to say some prayers to Saint Anne. The series of prayers for the novena can be found here.
When told by Roman officials to surrender the church’s valuables, St. Lawrence brought the city’s poor and sick. “Here is the church’s treasure,” he said. Rome didn’t find this amusing, and legend says he was put to death in A.D. 258 by being roasted on a grate, although some scholars say he was more likely beheaded. In either case, folks in southern Europe still mark this day.
- It is customary there to eat only cold meat in recognition of the reputed manner of his death.
- Fair weather on St. Lawrence’s Day presages a fair autumn.
In the book 365 Goddess, she has some different ideas about how to celebrate St Lawrence day. They are as follows:
St Sara of Egypt is the Romanies’ patron saint. Throughout the eve of May 24 and during May 25th, Gypsies exalt the elements of fire and water. From wood the men have gathered, Gypsy women build a healthy campfire. They cook a huge feast and gather around the fire to exchange presents and good cheer.
On May 24th many Romanies still make a pilgrimage to attend an annual service at the shrine of St Sara of Egypt, in the crypt of the church of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer in the Ile de la Camargue, Bouches-du-Rhone, France. They carry the statue of St. Sara, who is black, into the sea (from where she originated) and out again.
From: The Good Spell Book
May 15 is the feast day of Saint Sophia of Rome. On this date, Saint Sophia was regularly invoked against frosts that occurred late in the year; thus she was called kalte Sophie ‘cold Sophia’ in Germany by those who requested her aid in planting arable crops. Considered to be one of the “Ice Saints”. Sophia is also an “ice saint” in Slovenia and Central Europe, where St. Sophia’s day (“Cold Sophie”) is considered the last day of cold weather. There, Sophia is associated with rain and is nicknamed poscana Zofka ‘pissing Sophie’ or mokra Zofija ‘wet Sophia’ in folk tradition. In Czech, the Sophia is known as “Žofie, ledová žena” (Sophia, the ice-woman).
Many of the old weather rules are now forgotten. Nowadays, we rely on the weather forecasts of radio and television. According to lore, the “Ice Saints” Pankratius, Servatius and Bonifatius as well as the “Cold Sophie” are known for a cooling trend in the weather between 12th and 15th of May. For centuries this well-known rule had many gardeners align their plantings after it. Observations of weather patterns over many years have shown, however, that a drop in temperature occurs frequently only around May 20. Are the “Ice Saints” not in tune anymore? The mystery solution is found in the history of our calendar system: Pope Gregory VIII arranged a calendar reform in 1582, whereby the differences of the Julian calendar could be corrected to the sun year to a large extent.
The day of the “Cold Sophie” (May 15) was the date in the old calendar and corresponds to today’s May 22. Therefore the effects of the “Ice Saints” is felt in the time span of May 19-22. Sensitive transplants should only be put in the garden beds after this date.
Who is Saint Sophia of Rome?
According to tradition, she was a young woman of Rome who was killed for her faith during the reign of Diocletian. She was buried in the cemetery of Gordianus and Epimachus, and is venerated by the catholic church as a Christian martyr.
May 11, 12, and 13 are the feast days of Saints Mamertus, Pancras, and Gervais. These three are known as the Three Chilly Saints not because they were cold during their lifetimes, but because these days bring a brief spell of colder weather in many years, including the last nightly frosts of the spring, and are traditionally the coldest of the month.
English and French folklore (and later American) held that these days would bring a late frost. In Germany, they were called the Icemanner, or Icemen Days, and people believed it was never safe to plant until the Icemen were gone. Another bit of folklore claimed:
“Who shears his sheep before St. Gervatius’s Day loves more his wool than his sheep.”
In Sweden, the German legend of the ice saints has resulted in the belief that there are special “iron nights,” especially in the middle of June, which are susceptible to frost. The term “iron nights” (järnnätter) has probably arisen through a mistranslated German source, where the term “Eismänner” (ice men) was read as “Eisenmänner” (iron men) and their nights then termed “iron nights,” which then became shifted from May to June.
To the Poles, the trio are known collectively as zimni ogrodnicy (cold gardeners), and are followed by zimna Zośka (cold Sophias) on the feast day of St. Sophia which falls on May 15. In Czech, the three saints are collectively referred to as “ledoví muži” (ice-men or icy men), and Sophia is known as “Žofie, ledová žena” (Sophia, the ice-woman).
St. Mamertus is not counted among the Ice Saints in certain countries (Southern Germany, Austria, Northern Italy, Czech Republic, etc.), whereas St. Boniface of Tarsus belongs to them in other countries (Flanders, Liguria, Czech Republic etc.) as well; St. Boniface’s feast day falling on May 14. St. Sophia, nicknamed Cold Sophia (German kalte Sophie) on May 15 can be added in Germany, Alsace (France). In Poland and the Czech Republic, the Ice Saints are St. Pancras, Saint Servatus and St. Boniface of Tarsus.
The introduction of the Gregorian Calendar in 1582 involved skipping 10 days in the calendar, so that the equivalent days from the climatic point of view became May 22–25.
January 25 is St. Paul’s day, a festival of the Roman and English churches in commemoration of St. Paul. This day is thought to be prophetic as to the weather of the year:
“If St. Paul’s day be fair and clear, It doth betide a happy year; If blustering winds do blow aloft. Then wars will trouble our realm full oft; And if it chance to snow or rain, Then will be dear all sorts of grain.”
In Germany when the day proved foul the common people used to drag the images of St. Paul and St. Urban in disgrace to duck them in the river.
- On the day of the conversion of St . Paul, (January 25th,) the four winds wrestle and the winner will blow most of the year. (Belgium.)
- If it rains on St. Paul’s day there will be plenty of mushrooms. (Bohemia.)
Other omens and folklore for St Paul’s day include the following:
- Fire will not burn a man born on St . Paul’s day, but if a woman who was born on that day is burned, the wound will never heal.
- Interestingly, in Sicily, it doesn’t matter what day you were born on – if you are a man fire will not burn you, but if you are a woman it will not only burn, it will eventually cause your death!
On a more positive note:
- If you set your hens to hatch on Paul’s day, they will become good layers.
Found in: Encyclopedia of superstitions, folklore, and the occult
There are two feast days in the year which are dedicated to St Peter. January 16, and June 29 (which is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul). What follows is lore and superstition surrounding St Peter’s day:
- No building should ever be begun on St . Peter’s day. It will never prosper.
- The Wallachians say that on St. Peter’s day all roads are guarded by serpents, and whoever kills one on that day will be lucky all the year.
- If it rains on St. Peter and St. Paul, there will be plenty of mushrooms.
- If you set your hens to hatch on Peter’s and Paul’s day, they will become good layers.
- Make nests for the hens on St . Peter’s day, And many ‘s the egg that they will lay.
Collected from various sources