Nowadays St. Patrick’s Day is an excuse to drink green beer and turn green from drink. Some cities, such as San Antonio, in Texas, dye their rivers green. But who was St. Patrick and why do people outside Ireland celebrate this day?
Several years ago I read a fascinating book call How the Irish Saved Civilization. Basically, Patrick, from a wealthy Roman-British family, was kidnapped and then enslaved by Irish raiders when he was very young and sent to Ireland to tend sheep. Due to the harsh winter climate, most of these young slaves died. However, Patrick managed to survive and stayed for several years. He returned to England and studied in Gaul to become a priest. Around 432 , when he was a bishop, he decided to go back to Ireland to make the Irish into Christians. It is said that he used the shamrock with its three leaves to teach the Trinity of God the father, his Son, and the Holy Ghost.
As part of his mission in Ireland, Patrick set up monasteries, where the monks copied manuscripts sent to them from other monasteries in other countries. This is the part where the Irish saved civilization. There were a whole lot of manuscripts waiting to be copied in Ireland while libraries were being burned elsewhere (think, Alexandria). Thus, the manuscripts, many of which are the basis of western civilization at that time, were essentially saved.
Why do people wear green on St. Patrick’s Day? I always thought it was because Ireland is the Emerald Isle due to its green landscape. However, the green refers to the shamrock, which even today is associated with this day. According to our childhood tradition, even if you’re not Irish, if you are not wearing green on St. Patricks’ Day, someone can pinch you.
Nowadays, there are St. Patrick’s Day parades and festivals all over the world. Here in Istanbul, as far as I know, Molly’s Café is the only place that offers St. Patrick’s Day dinner on the day itself– lamb stew, cabbage salad, Irish soda bread, and Irish apple cake. There might even be some beer– but not green.