Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day across Canada

St. Patrick's Day, Guiness
This year, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations will be held across Canada as a time honoured tradition since 1824. Toronto and Montreal hold the largest and longest-running parades and festivals in Canada; as we drink green beer and wear green clothes, have we ever thought about the man behind the namesake holiday and where and how these traditions came to be?

Contrary to popular belief, Saint Patrick was actually an Irish missionary born in Wales, Great Britain. Although he spent much of his early life in Britain, during the Roman Empire no less, he was kidnapped at age 16 by Irish pirates and sold into a 6-year slavery stint in Ireland. After escaping and a short time back at home in Wales, he returned to Ireland as a bishop to expand his teachings about bringing together traditions of the old pagan and new Christian religions. Even though Patrick lived during the 4th and 5th centuries, he didn’t become known as a Saint until about the 7th century, which marked the beginning of his large and celebrated following on the anniversary of his death on March 17th.

Canada’s Irish population predominately lives in the eastern part of Canada as it was difficult for the poor immigrants to travel very far past the coast. The immigrants from Ireland were actually the founders of Irish celebrations in North America, and, thus, were born the origins of the celebrations as we know them today.

St. Patrick's Day, Guiness

Eco-friendly vegetable dye is poured into the Chicago River to turn it emerald green for St. Patrick’s Day.

A few fun facts and how some celebrate the holiday today:

– Canada is home to about 4,544,870 people claiming to have Irish blood.

– In Chicago, about 45 pounds of green vegetable dye has been dumped into the Chicago River for the past 40 years but it only lasts a few hours.

– Guinness, the iconic Irish beer, expects to sell 7.5 million pints on St. Patrick’s Day – almost twice what it sells on a standard day.

– In Rio de Janeiro, Christ the Redeemer is illuminated green.

St. Patrick's Day, Guiness

All Green Everything!

St. Patrick's DayYou wear a green shirt, drink green beer, and put on the accent for the day. And maybe, just to prove you really are one-eighth Irish, you’ll sip a Guinness.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day and it’s time to party.

But, have you ever considered what St. Patrick’s Day really means to the Irish? No, it isn’t a day dedicated to dark draughts and glittery shamrocks. The North American celebration actually has little to do with the man it’s meant to honour.

The story of St. Patrick

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Britain around 390 AD. When he was 16, Patrick was captured by Irish raiders and taken to the Emerald Isle as a slave to herd sheep. After six years of enslavement, Patrick escaped and somehow made his way back to his family.

After returning home, St. Patrick’s story says he then heard a voice telling him he must go back to Ireland. From there, he became ordained as a priest and began spreading the message of Christianity throughout Ireland. St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 AD.

He is buried in Downpatrick, Ireland at the Down Cathedral.

The North American tradition

Three-leaf-cloverOne of the biggest mistakes North Americans make about St. Patrick’s Day is the shamrock. The shamrock is not a four-leaf clover — it is a three-leaf shamrock instead. This is because St. Patrick used the three-leaf version to represent the father, son, and Holy Ghost in Christianity.

Adding green dye to a light coloured beer is another tradition that is strictly North American.

There are only two proper ways to refer to this celebration: St. Patrick’s Day and St. Paddy’s Day. It should never be referred to as “St. Patty’s Day” because that would be a celebration of a hamburger.

St. Patrick’s Day Tidbits

– According to the 2011 census by Statistics Canada, Canada’s official statistical office revealed that the Irish were the 4th largest ethnic group with 4,544,870 or 14% of the country’s total population.

– The first St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated in 1759 by Irish soldiers serving with the British army.

– Montreal has held a St. Patrick’s Day parade every year since 1824.

– In Manitoba, there is a three-day cultural festival celebrating the occasion put on by the Irish Association of Manitoba.

– The shamrock is a registered trademark of the Republic of Ireland.

Famous Irish Musicians

The rock world is filled with the Irish. Most are blessed with huge Irish lungs and the humour that goes with their heritage. Some artists have used their stardom to promote their political beliefs and humanitarian causes. There are so many to name, but the ones who have taken their place in the rock ‘n’ roll history books who turned their talent into awareness.

Bono1Paul David Hewson is most commonly known by his stage name Bono and famous for being the lead vocalist of U2. Bono was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, where he met the members of U2. As the band matured, his lyrics became more intense and political. Bono is widely known for his activism concerning Africa, and the need to stop poverty and starvation. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, granted an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth ll, named Person of the Year by Time Magazine, amongst many other awards and nominations. Bono continues to tour and perform while raising awareness for his many causes. He still resides in Dublin, where he purchased and renovated The Clarence Hotel.

Sinead O'ConnorSinéad Marie Bernadette O’Connor was born in Dublin, Ireland and rose to fame in the late 1980s with her debut album The Lion and the Cobra and achieved worldwide success in 1990 with a cover of the song “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Best known as the bald-headed Irish singer/writer who encountered controversy due to her forthright statements and gestures, ordination as a priest, strong views on organized religion, women’s rights, war, and child abuse while still maintaining a singing career. Her body of work includes a number of collaborations with other artists and appearances at charity fundraising concerts, in addition to her own solo albums.

John McDermottJohn McDermott is better known as a Scottish-Canadian tenor, his roots are both Scottish and Irish, and he has devoted much of his recordings to the Irish heritage. John was discovered by chance while working as a circulation sales representative for the Toronto Sun, he belted out an impromptu rendition of “Danny Boy” at a company party. “I grew up singing, but I thought everybody grew up singing. My dad and mom introduced us to music early on, and all of the McDermott kids could unleash a verse or two of ‘Scotland the Brave’ or ‘Green Isle of Erin’ on command. My song was ‘Danny Boy,’ and I sang it with pride, because even as a kid I knew what a powerful and emotive song it was.”

Irish RoversThe Irish Rovers are a Canadian Irish folk group created in 1963 and named after the traditional song “The Irish Rover”. The group is best known for their recording of Shel Silverstein’s “The Unicorn” in 1967. The Irish Rovers have represented Canada in no less than five World Expos, and throughout the years, have continued to tour worldwide. In 2010, the band celebrated their 45 years of sharing their music with the world by producing a CD and a DVD/television special filmed entirely in Northern Ireland.

So the history and the music endure, and the Irish should be thanked for that, as well as remembered for the price they paid by coming to Canada. Celebrate St. Patrick and his day – no matter where you are on March 17th!