Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day

I have only a tenuous claim to Irish ancestry. While I do have ancestors who lived in Ireland proper, they were Orangemen (Anglo-Saxon protestants, at left...)  I don't think I have any Celtic blood in my veins.

St. Patrick's Day, now one of the kitschier holidays we celebrate, has been completely divorced from its origin.  March 17 is actually the Catholic feast day for St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.  The details of St. Patrick's life are often debated, but the popular traditions and stories are more important than the historical facts.  It is the legend of St. Patrick that has informed the beliefs and practices of Catholics for more than a thousand years.  The legend is truer than the truth.

Patrick was probably born in Scotland, but at a young age he was captured by pirates and sold into slavery to an Irish chieftain. He escaped, became a priest, and later returned to Ireland as a bishop.  He is commonly said to have converted the Irish to Christianity.  Though he no doubt won many converts, it is more likely that he was sent to maintain an existing Christian community.

Patrick explained the holy trinity to his followers using the three leaves of the shamrock, which also happened to be a sacred plant to the Druids.  This is an example of Christianity adapting by blending with pagan culture (something we will discuss a lot more when we get to Easter...)

Patrick is also said to have banished all snakes from Ireland after they disturbed him during fasting and prayer. There is an old wives' tale that a snake will never slither over a trefoil (ie clover).  I'm not sure whether this belief predates St. Patrick, and the snakes left Ireland because of the bounteous clover, or if they now avoid clover because it reminds them of St. Patrick.  I've heard the story told both ways.

March 17 is the anniversary of Patrick's death. 

Button Soup St. Patrick's Day Dinner

An old joke: I'm giving up drinking for Lent, and I'm giving up Lent for St. Patrick's Day

What is interesting about St. Patrick's Day, given our focus on feasting and fasting, is that it is often excused from the rigors of Lent. In all of Ireland and in most diocese in North America, St. Patrick's Day is formally exempt from Lent, and Catholics can indulge in meat and alcohol and dancing and all the other revelry normally forbidden at that time of year.

The March installment of the Button Soup Supper Club was an Irish dinner for the Feast of St. Patrick, graciously hosted by Martin Kennedy of the Garneau district.  It featured some traditional Irish fare, with a special emphasis on breaking the Lenten fast for one night.  Full recap to follow.

Button Soup St. Patrick's Day Dinner

Bill of Fare

Brawn, Clover, Buttermilk

Potato Broth, Dumplings

Black Pudding, Colcannon, Apples

Whiskied Fruitcake 

1 comment:

  1. That was a fascinating hx of St. Patrick. I didn't know any of that.