January 21 is the Eve of St Agnes. There are many traditions associated with both this night and tomorrow night, all intended to bring dreams of the future husband. Here are some of them.
- Walking thrice backwards around a churchyard in silence at midnight, scattering hemp seed over the left shoulder.
- Boiling an egg, removing the yolk and filling the center with salt and then eating the whole, shell included!
- Sticking 9 pins into a red onion, taking it backwards to the bedroom and sleeping with it under the pillow.
But the most often repeated one is that of making a Dumb Cake. Here are the instructions:
Three, five or seven maidens should gather together on St Agnes Eve and make a cake from flour, salt, eggs and water. While they are mixing and baking the cake all the girls should stand on something different and which they have never stood on before. Each girl should take a hand in adding each of the ingredients and each girl should turn the cake once. When the cake is baked they should eat it all between them. Then, walking backwards, they should all retire to bed where they will dream of their future husbands. The whole process from start to finish should take place in complete silence and should be completed just before midnight.
It is interesting that all these methods include the elements of silence, walking backward, and retiring to bed at midnight.
Here are some more old old spells for St Agnes night:
On Saint Agnes’ night, take a row of pins and pull out every one, one after another, saying a Pater Noster, sticking a pin in your sleeve, and you will dream of him or her you will marry. “Knit tne left garter about the right-legg’d stocking” (let the other garter and stocking alone), and as you rehearse these following verses, at every comma knit a knot:
“This knot I knit,
To know the thing I know not yet,
That I may see
The man that shall my husband be,
How he goes and what he wears.
And what he does all the days.”
Accordingly in your dream you will see him, if a musician, with a lute or other instrument; if a scholar, with a book,” and so on.
Another dream-charm for St . Agnes’ Eve was to take a sprig of rosemary and another of thyme and sprinkle them thrice with water, then place one in each shoe, and stand shoe and sprig on either side of the bed, repeating:
“St Agnes, that’s to lovers kind.
Come ease the trouble of my mind.”
In many places the notion prevailed that to insure the perfection of these charms the day must be spent in fasting. It was called “St . Agnes’ fast.”
Keat’s beautiful lines commemorative of the day seem doubly exquisite when read after conning the clumsy folk-rhymes:
They told me how upon St. Agnes’ Eve
Young virgins might have visions of delight,
And soft adorings from their loves receive
Upon the hony’d middle of the night.
IF ceremonies due they did aright;
As supperless to bed they must retire
And couch supine their beauties lily white;
Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.
In Scotland the lasses sow grain at midnight on St . Agnes Eve, singing,—
“Agnes sweet and Agnes fair
Hither, hither now repair.
Bonny Agnes, let me see
The lad who is to marry me.”
And the figure of the future sweetheart appears as if reaping the grain.
Here is yet another one:
A key is placed in the Bible at the second chapter of Solomon’s Song, verses 1, 5 and 17, and the book tied firmly together, with the handle of the key left beyond the edges of the leaves. The tips of the little finger of the charm-tester and of a friend are placed under the side of the key, and then they “tried the alphabet” with the verses above named; that is, they began thus:
“A. My beloved is mine, and I am his. He feedeth among the lilies. Until the day break and the shadows fall away, turn, my beloved,” etc.
At the word “turn” the Bible was supposed to turn around if A were the first letter of the lover’s name. Thus could the entire name be spellled out.
Dwynwen was Wales’ patron saint of lovers, and January 25th is the Welsh equivalent to St Valentine’s Day. However, it is a romantic country, and they also celebrate St Valentine’s day on 14 February!
She is also known as:
Her most well known saying is “Nothing wins hearts like cheerfulness”
The story of Dwynwen dates back to the 5th century. She was a beautiful Celtic princess, the prettiest of all the King of Wales’s 24 daughters (Brychan Brycheiniog of Brechon also had 11 sons!).
Dwynwen was in deeply in love with the handsome Maelon Dafodrill, but her father had already betrothed her to another, so he refused to give them his consent. On finding out, Maelon cruelly forced himself upon her and fled. With a broken heart, and grieved to have upset her father, Dwynwen ran to the woods and begged God to make her forget her love for Maelon.
Exhausted and aungished, Dwynwen eventually fell asleep. Whilst dreaming, an angel visited her and left a sweet smelling potion. This would erase all memories of Maelon, and his callous heart would also be cooled, but so much so that he turned to ice. Dwynwen was horrified to find her love frozen solid. She prayed again to God, who answered her prayers by granting her three wishes.
Her first wish was to have Maelon thawed and for him to forget her; her second, to have God look kindly on the hopes and dreams of true lovers whilst mending the broken hearts of the spurned; and her third was for her to never marry, but to devote the remainder of her life to God, as thanks for saving Maelon.
Dwynwen devoted the rest of life to God’s service. She became a nun and lived on Llanddwyn Island on the western coast of Ynys Mon (Anglesey), an area accessible only at low tide. She founded a church there, remains of which can still be seen today. After her death she was declared the Welsh Patron Saint of Lovers and ever since, Welsh lovers have looked to St Dwynwen for her help in courting their true love, or for forgetting a false one.
On the island there is a well where, according to legend, a sacred fish (an eel) swims. It is said that the eel can predict the happiness of relationships.
Her well, a fresh-water spring called Ffynnon Dwynwen, became a wishing well and place of pilgrimage, particularly for lovers because of the story above. The tradition grew that the eel in the well could foretell the future for lovers – ask questions and watch which way they turn. Women would scatter breadcrumbs on the surface, then lay her handkerchief on water’s surface; if the eel disturbed it, her lover would be faithful.
Visitors still go to the well today, hoping that the water will boil, meaning that love and good luck will follow them. Her well continues to be a place of pilgrimage; there’s a tradition that if the fish in the well are active when a couple visits, it’s the sign of a faithful husband.
Visitors would leave offerings at her shrine, and so popular was this place of pilgrimage that it became the richest in the area during Tudor times. This funded a substantial chapel that was built in the 16th century on the site of Dwynwen’s original chapel.
Prayer To St Dwynwen
Oh Blessed St. Dwynwen, you who knew pain and peace, division and reconciliation. You have promised to aid lovers and you watch over those whose hearts have been broken. As you received three boons from an Angel, intercede for me to receive 3 blessings to obtain my heart’s desire (state request) and if that is not God’s will, a speedy healing from my pain; your guidance and assistance that I may find love with the right person, at the right time, and in a right way; and an unshakeable faith in the boundless kindness and wisdom of God and this I ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
St. Dwynwen, we beseech thee, comfort lovers whose vision is unclear. Send mending to those with love lost. Protect companions. In your name we seek to do the same. In your name we choose love first. With the love of you, Mary and of Jesus Christ. Amen.
There is a Mexican saying that we die three deaths: the first when our bodies die, the second when our bodies are lowered into the earth out of sight, and the third when our loved ones forget us.
Some believe that the origins of All Souls’ Day in European folklore and folk belief are related to customs of ancestor veneration practiced worldwide. It is practically universal folk belief that the souls of the dead (or those in Purgatory) are allowed to return to earth on All Souls Day. In Austria, they are said to wander the forests, praying for release. In Poland, they are said to visit their parish churches at midnight, where a light can be seen because of their presence. Afterward, they visit their families, and to make them welcome, a door or window is left open. In many places, a place is set for the dead at supper, or food is otherwise left out for them.
In any case, our beloved dead should be remembered, commemorated, and prayed for.
During our visits to their graves, we spruce up their resting sites, sprinkling them with holy water, leaving votive candles, and adorning them flowers (especially chrysanthemums and marigolds) to symbolize the Eden-like paradise that man was created to enjoy, and may, if saved, enjoy after death and any needed purgation.
Today is a good day to not only remember the dead spiritually, but to tell your children about their ancestors. Bring out those old photo albums and family trees! Write down your family’s stories for your children and grandchildren! Impress upon them the importance of their ancestors!
Around the world:
The formal commemoration of the saints and martyrs (All Saints’ Day) existed in the early Christian church since its legalization, and alongside that developed a day for commemoration of all the dead (All Souls’ Day). The modern date of All Souls’ Day was first popularized in the early eleventh century after Abbot Odilo established it as a day for the monks of Cluny and associated monasteries to pray for the souls in purgatory.
Many of these European traditions reflect the dogma of purgatory. For example, ringing bells for the dead was believed to comfort them in their cleansing there, while the sharing of soul cakes with the poor helped to buy the dead a bit of respite from the suffering of purgatory. In the same way, lighting candles was meant to kindle a light for the dead souls languishing in the darkness. Out of this grew the traditions of “going souling” and the baking of special types of bread or cakes.
In Tirol, cakes are left for them on the table and the room kept warm for their comfort. In Brittany, people flock to the cemeteries at nightfall to kneel, bareheaded, at the graves of their loved ones, and to anoint the hollow of the tombstone with holy water or to pour libations of milk on it. At bedtime, the supper is left on the table for the souls.
In Bolivia, many people believe that the dead eat the food that is left out for them. In Brazil people attend a Mass or visit the cemetery taking flowers to decorate their relatives’ grave, but no food is involved.
In Malta many people make pilgrimages to graveyards, not just to visit the graves of their dead relatives, but to experience the special day in all its significance. Visits are not restricted to this day alone. During the month of November, Malta’s cemeteries are frequented by families of the departed. Mass is also said throughout the month, with certain Catholic parishes organizing special events at cemetery chapels.
In Linz, funereal musical pieces known as aequales were played from tower tops on All Soul’s Day and the evening before.
In Mexico “Dia de Los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) is celebrated very joyfully — and colorfully. A special altar, called an ofrenda, is made just for these days of the dead (1 and 2 November). It has at least three tiers, and is covered with pictures of Saints, pictures of and personal items belonging to dead loved ones, skulls, pictures of cavorting skeletons (calaveras), marigolds, water, salt, bread, and a candle for each of their dead (plus one extra so no one is left out).
A special bread is baked just for this day, Pan de Muerto, which is sometimes baked with a toy skeleton inside. The one who finds the skeleton will have “good luck.” This bread is eaten during picnics at the graves along with tamales, cookies, and chocolate. They also make brightly-colored skulls out of sugar to place on the family altars and give to children.
Collected from various sources
Lovely, summer-like days that occur around October 18 are called St. Luke’s Little Summer in honor of the saint’s feast day. In olden days, St. Luke’s Day did not receive as much attention in the secular world as St. John’s Day (June 24) and Michaelmas (September 29), so to keep from being forgotten, St. Luke presented us with some golden days to cherish before the coming of winter, or so the story goes. Some folks call this Indian Summer, but that officially occurs between November 11 and November 2
Traditional Catholic Celebrations:
Saint Luke’s Feast Day can be celebrated by reading the Acts of Apostles and praying the three canticles he preserved for us – the Benedictus, the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis. As the first Christian physician, Saint Luke is the patron saint of physicians and surgeons. For this reason, we honor Saint Luke on his feast day by praying through his intercession for doctors and those who care for the sick.
Found at: Almanac.com
Many churches celebrate the Feast of St Francis of Assisi on October 4 each year. The feast commemorates the life of St Francis, who was born in the 12th century and is the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals and the environment. It is a popular day for pets to be “blessed”.
About St Francis
St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was the founder of the Franciscan Order. The son of a wealthy merchant named Pietro di Bernardone, he publicly denounced his father’s wealth in 1206 and dedicated his life to prayer and serving the poor. Pope Innocent III eventually gave Francis and his followers permission to preach, and he ordained Francis a deacon. The followers of Francis were called Friars Minor, or “the lesser brethren.” Francis died on October 3, 1226, and was canonized in 1228.
Text from his Sermon to the Birds:
“My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple rainment; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sow, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.”
-Saint Francis of Assisi (c.1220)
St. Swithin was a beloved ninth-century bishop of Winchester, England, who requested that he be buried in the churchyard–some say to be close to the common people, whom he loved; some say so that he could enjoy God’s gift of rain for all eternity. When he died in 862, his request was honored.
About 100 years later, however, it was deemed unseemly that so holy a man should rest in a common grave. On July 15, the saint’s feast day, the people attempted to enshrine his remains in his church.
Legend has it, however, that St. Swithin caused torrential rains to fall for 40 days, until the intended transfer was abandoned. This is the source of a very old Scottish weather proverb regarding rain on July 15:
“St. Swithin’s Day if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain.”
Vidovdan (St. Vitus Day) is one of the important religious holidays for the Serbs. It’s annually observed on 28 June (Gregorian Calendar), or 15 June according to the Julian calendar, in use by the Serbian Orthodox Church to venerate St. Vitus. It is an important part of Serb ethnic and Serbian national identity.
Observation of this feast is connected with the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. According to the Serbian Orthodox tradition, the Serbian national identity was founded on the day, when the Ottoman Empire defeated Serbia in the Battle of Kosovo and slew prince Lazar. Ruling sultan of the Ottoman Empire was killed on the same day by Serbian knight Miloš Obilić.
Serbs consider Vidovdan a very important day, that is why many historic events in Serbia took place on June 28, for instance, signing of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), proclamation of Serbian constitution (1921), Slobodan Milošević’s deportation to the International Criminal Tribunal, etc.
In the late Middle Ages, people in Germany and countries such as Latvia celebrated the feast of Vitus by dancing before his statue. This dancing became popular and the name “Saint Vitus Dance” was given to the neurological disorder Sydenham’s chorea. It also led to Vitus being considered the patron saint of dancers and of entertainers in general.
It is also a day for weather watching:
“If St. Vitus’ Day be rainy weather,
It will rain for 30 days together.”
About St Vitus:
There are no reliable facts about existence of Saint Vitus. According to Christian legend, Vitus was the son of Roman senator from Sicily. He converted to Christianity under influence of his mentor. Satin Vitus died as a martyr during the persecution of Christians by Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian.
Vitus is considered the patron saint of actors, comedians, dancers, and epileptics, similarly to Genesius of Rome. He is also said to protect against lightning strikes, animal attacks and oversleeping.
The Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, held annually on June 24, is the feast day of St John the Baptist, a Jewish preacher who according to the Christian tradition, baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. It is a day of celebration in Quebec and other areas of French Canada. The feast day of Saint John the Baptist or Midsummer was a very popular event in the Ancien Régime of France, and it is still celebrated as a religious feast day in several countries, like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Spain, Latvia and Lithuania.
Other names for this holiday include the following:
- Saint Jean Baptiste Day
- La Saint-Jean
- St John the Baptist Day
- Fête nationale du Québec
- Quebec’s National Holiday
This is a historical, cultural, national and religious holiday. It is observed by Quebecers, French Canadians, French Americans. Celebrations include parades, bonfires, fireworks, feasting, drinking, musical concerts, flag waving, patriotic speeches, and contests.
The flag of Quebec and the fleurs-de-lis are widespread symbols of Saint Jean Baptiste Day. Many people choose to wear blue or white clothing to the celebrations. The fleurs-de-lis represents the flower of an iris or a lily. The fleurs-de-lis is also associated with the Virgin Mary and her purity. It was a symbol of French speaking people and their kings after King Clovis I converted to Christianity in the year 493. It was taken from the papal seal or coat-of-arms when the king converted, to symbolize the strength and significance of the French nation in its union with the Papal state. Quebec’s flag is one-and-a half times as wide as it is high and has a blue background. The background is divided into four rectangles by a cross and each of the four rectangles contains a single white fleurs-de-lis.
What Do People Do?
Various events are organized on Saint Jean Baptiste Day. These range from large scale public celebrations, such as rock and jazz concerts, sports tournaments, parades and firework displays, to small family or neighborhood happenings, such as yard sales, picnics, barbecues, bonfires and children’s entertainment. Many church bells ring in celebration and public dances and fun fairs are held. Some events may be held on the evening of June 23 and many are broadcast live on television, radio or on the Internet. The celebrations are coordinated by the Mouvement national des Québécoises et des Québécois.
Saint Jean Baptiste Day is a public holiday in the Canadian province of Quebec. Post offices and many stores are closed. Public transport services run to a reduced schedule in some places or may not run at all in other areas, such as the province’s rural regions. If June 24 falls on a Sunday, the same day is a paid day off for those who work on Sunday. June 25 becomes a paid day off for workers who do not ordinarily work on Sunday.
In ancient times, the summer solstice was honored around June 21. Midsummer festivals, such as those linked with the June solstice, were held in Europe for thousands of years. In the fifth century, Christianity spread through France. When people converted to Christianity, elements of these festivals were combined with feast days for Christian saints. June 24 – the feast day of St John was substituted for the pagan Midsummer celebrations. Traditionally, bonfires would be lit on the eve of June 24 in order to honor the saint.
In France, the celebrations around the feast day of Saint John the Baptist were widely enjoyed and French colonists introduced these traditions to North America.
The patriotic tone of the Saint Jean Baptiste Day celebrations began in 1834. In that year Ludger Duvernay, an influential journalist, visited the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Montreal, and was inspired to create a similar event for French Canadians. In 1843, he established the Saint Jean Baptiste Society to promote the celebration of Saint Jean Baptiste Day. This organization was supported by the Catholic Church, which saw it as a way to promote social and moral progress. In 1908 St John the Baptist was designated as the patron Saint of Quebec, re-enforcing the connection between Saint Jean Baptiste Day and French-Canadian patriotism.
The celebrations were supported by the Catholic Church and were primarily religious around that time. The lighting of bonfires, a traditional custom on the Nativity of Saint John which ultimately reached back to pre-Christian Midsummer celebrations were still lit at night. In addition, the first Saint-Jean-Baptiste parades were organized. They became an important tradition over time. The procession of allegorical floats was introduced in 1874.
During and after World War I, Saint Jean Baptiste Day was barely celebrated, but in 1925 Saint Jean Baptiste Day became a provincial holiday in Quebec. After a period in the 1960s, when the structure of society in Quebec changed greatly, this holiday became very political. During the Quiet Revolution, the event took a political turn, with many riots and protests taking place.
However, in 1977 Saint Jean Baptiste Day was recognized as the ‘national’ holiday of Quebec and the mood of the celebrations gradually moved towards that of the secular celebrations in modern times.
By making it a statutory holiday, the day became a holiday for all Quebecers rather than only those of French-Canadian or Catholic origins. Celebrations were gradually secularized. While the religious significance of the civic celebration is gone, the day remains popularly called la St-Jean-Baptiste or simply la St-Jean and is still observed in churches.
Collected from various sources
Saint George’s Day is celebrated on April 23, the traditionally accepted date of the saint’s death in AD 303. For those Eastern Orthodox Churches which use the Julian calendar, this date currently falls on the day of 6 May of the Gregorian calendar. In Turkish culture the day is known as Hıdırellez or Xıdır Nəbi and is symbolic of spring renewal.
It is also believed to be a magical day when all evil spells can be broken. It was believed that the saint helps the crops to grow and blesses the morning dew, so early in the morning they walked in the pastures and meadows and collected dew, washed their face, hands and feet in it for good luck and even in some rural parts of Bulgaria it was a custom to roll in it naked.
Many Christian denominations in Syria celebrate St George’s Day, especially in the Homs Governorate. They do this by dressing small children as dragons and chasing them through the streets whilst beating them with clubs and batons. It is a very special time of year, after the beatings folks will enjoy a sit down dinner and dancing.
Saint George’s Day is the feast day of Saint George as celebrated by various Christian Churches and by the several nations, kingdoms, countries, and cities of which Saint George is the patron saint.
Since Easter often falls close to Saint George’s Day, the church celebration of the feast may be moved to accommodate the Easter Festivities. Similarly, the Eastern Orthodox celebration of the feast moves accordingly to the first Monday after Easter or, as it is sometimes called, to the Monday of Bright Week.
Some Orthodox Churches have additional feasts dedicated to St George. The country of Georgia celebrates the feast of St. George on April 23, and, more prominently, November 10 (Julian calendar), which currently fall on May 6 and November 23 (Gregorian calendar), respectively.
St George’s Day was a major feast and national holiday in England on a par with Christmas from the early 15th century. The Cross of St. George was flown in 1497 by John Cabot on his voyage to discover Newfoundland and later by Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. In 1620 it was the flag that was flown on the foremast of the Mayflower when the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
The tradition of celebration St George’s day had waned by the end of the 18th century after the union of England and Scotland. Nevertheless, the link with St. George continues today, for example Salisbury holds an annual St. George’s Day pageant, the origins of which are believed to go back to the 13th century. In recent years the popularity of St. George’s Day appears to be increasing gradually. Today, St. George’s day may be celebrated with anything English including morris dancing and Punch and Judy shows.
A traditional custom on St George’s day is to wear a red rose in one’s lapel, though this is no longer widely practiced. Another custom is to fly or adorn the St George’s Cross flag in some way: pubs in particular can be seen on April 23 festooned with garlands of St George’s crosses. It is customary for the hymn “Jerusalem” to be sung in cathedrals, churches and chapels on St George’s Day, or on the Sunday closest to it. Traditional English food and drink may be consumed.
In the Valencian city of Alcoi, Saint George’s Day is commemorated as a thanksgiving celebration for the proclaimed aid the Saint provided to the Christian troops fighting the Muslims in the siege of the city. Its citizens commemorate the day with a festivity in which thousands of people parade in medieval costumes, forming two “armies” of Moors and Christians and re-enacting the siege that gave the city to the Christians.
The Serbian St George’s Day is called Đurđevdan and is celebrated on 6 May every year, as the Serbian Orthodox Church uses the Julian, Old Style calendar. Đurđevdan is also celebrated by both Orthodox and Muslim Romani and Muslim Gorani. Đurđevdan is celebrated, especially, in the areas of Raška in Serbia, and is marked by morning picnics, music, and folk dances.
In Russia, St George’s Day (Гергьовден, Gergyovden) is a public holiday that takes place on 6 May each year. It is possibly the most celebrated name day in the country. A common ritual is to prepare and eat a whole lamb, which is an ancient practice possibly related to Slavic pagan sacrificial traditions and the fact that St George is the patron saint of shepherds.
A Protective Blessing Ritual for Saint George’s Day:
In many communities, Saint George’s Day was the day animals were lead out into the field, thus protective, blessing rituals abound. Here’s one:
- Lead all healthy animals three times around the perimeter of their field, barn or home, always in a sunwise direction.
- The person leading the parade carries a lit torch.
- The person bringing up the rear holds an open padlock in one hand, the key in the other hand.
- After the third round, the animals are lead back into the barn.
- Turn the key in the lock.
- Throw the key into a river or stream, while preserving the now permanently locked padlock.
Dragons and Dragon’s Blood:
St. George is credited with having slain a fearsome dragon to save the life of a virgin. The Dragon means different things to different peoples. In some medieval traditions it is linked with the devil or Satan, hence the carvings and windows depicting St George, (or sometimes St Michael), slaying one.
But the Dragon has far older associations in which it represents the life force of the land. In the Craft we often refer to the Earth Dragon, a great coiled beast who sleeps within the Earth and who can be called upon to work healing for the planet. The Earth Dragon is often invoked in cases of potential ecological danger. King Arthur’s father was named Uther Pendragon, and it is thought that his name shows that he was a defender of the land. The Dragon is a symbol of Wales and appears on the country’s flag.
Dragon’s blood is not the blood of some luckless lizard, but the resin of the palm calimus draco. Magically it is used for spells of protection, exorcism and sexual potency. Added to incenses it increases their potency and drives away all negativity. On its own Dragon’s blood can be burnt at an open window to secure a lover’s return, and a piece of the resin placed under the mattress is said to cure impotence. In the past Dragon’s Blood was used medicinally to cure diarrhoea, dysentery and even syphilis. Like many other resins it is also used to stop bleeding wounds.
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.