A Wee Bit of St. Patrick’s Day History

It’s easy to forget that the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day started as a religious feast honoring a Catholic saint who transformed the lives of thousands of people, thousands of years ago.


Most people know that St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and he is widely credited with driving all the snakes from Ireland. (Which is a falsehood; there never were any snakes on the island at all.)

But, did you know that before coming to Ireland on a mission to convert the Irish to Christianity, that the English-born Patrick was held captive in Ireland for six years as a young man? It is believed that during this time, Patrick formed his plan to convert Ireland. Eventually he escaped and returned some 15 years later as a Catholic bishop.


Converting a Nation


St. Patrick is credited with founding 165 churches across Ireland. Like a good marketer getting his point across, he knew how to communicate. He wisely incorporated ancient Celtic pagan symbols that were familiar to his converts into his teachings. He used the shamrock plant, revered by the Irish as a portent of spring renewal, for lessons about the Holy Trinity. Likewise, he incorporated the sun (another strong pagan symbol) into the Christian cross; today we call it the Celtic cross.

There is some debate over the actual date of his death, although March 17th is his official feast day. He died in the 5th century A.D., and his feast day has been celebrated for more than a thousand years.


The Americanization of a Saint

CC St Patricks Greening River

In Ireland, the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day is more of a religious holiday that the beer fest it has become in America. Stores are closed, workers have the day off, and until the 1970s, the law required that pubs be closed.

Here, though, I think our St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are a combination of celebrating a heritage that millions of Americans share, as well as a chance to just have some fun to get out of the winter doldrums.

In Chicago (where I grew up) St. Pat’s Day is a pretty big deal. So much so that the City of Chicago uses 45 pounds of vegetable dye to color the Chicago River green for a day! The annual spectacle draws over 400,000 visitors and culminates in a parade down Michigan Avenue. (Photo credit: © City of Chicago / www.ChooseChicago.com)

The idea of a St. Patrick’s Day parade is a uniquely American creation, although the date of the first parade is of some debate. Some say the first St. Pat’s parade took place in Boston in 1737, while others believe it was 1762 in New York. In 1848, several “Irish aid” societies in New York banded together to produce one parade for the city; the result is the oldest civilian parade in the world with 150,000 participants.

One date is uncontroverted: the potato famine of 1845 that sent thousands of poor Irish Catholic immigrants to the U.S. Since then, the number Americans claiming Irish descent is now ten times the actual population of Ireland!

A stone carving of Saint Patrick on the lower door to the Chapel Royal of Dublin Castle in Dublin, Ireland. (c) searagen/Fotolia

A stone carving of Saint Patrick on the lower door to the Chapel Royal of Dublin Castle in Dublin, Ireland. © searagen/Fotolia.com

Finally, in preparation for fun and frivolity this evening, here are a couple of phrases to get you started. “Erin go bragh!” In Gaelic, that simply means, “Ireland forever.” And the Irish cheers, “Slainte!” (pronounced, slurred, “it’s a lawn chair”) means “to your health!”Slainte!

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7 “Lucky” Ways to Think Green for Spring

Home plant


From a full room re-do to an inexpensive plant, bringing more green into your life is a snap!


Although the color green is associated with St. Patrick’s Day, it can be a wonderful addition to your home all year long. Green is known for a calming effect, reminding us of nature and the joy of being outside on a beautiful day. It represents tranquility, good luck, wealth and health.

Green can improve reading ability and eyesight, so try it in a library or child’s room. It can relieve stress and promote tranquility, which sounds like a perfect solution for a master bathroom. Ever wonder why spas are so often decorated in shades of green?

Green earth tone and floral print interior decoration plan
If the emerald or Kelly green of St. Pat’s is too bold for you, try a more soothing shade such as sage or jade. Since green lies between yellow and blue on the color wheel, a variety of shades are available from warmer yellow-greens to deep, rich blue-green. (Photo © monamakela.com / fotolia.com)

It’s always a popular decorating color so if you find yourself wanting to “spruce” up a room this spring, think green! Here are some easy and economical ways to do it:

Spring 2010 016

1.  Go through your Christmas accessories and see if anything can be repurposed. Table runners, votive cups, vases, glassware … instead of packing it all away, keep out a few pieces for the spring and summer. You might be amazed that mixing a “Christmas” green votive cup with yellows and blues instead of red will look totally different. (These green votive cups from Crate and Barrel were from their Christmas line a few years ago.) Avoid things with obvious Christmas decorations.

2.  Mix in a few fluffy pale green towels in the bathroom.


green plant

3.  Add a fresh plant to any room. Be sure to ready the sun preferences on the information spike in the plant. If, like me, you have trouble keeping houseplants alive, invest in an Aquaglobe. I’ve had much success with these marvelous inventions. In a pinch, use a good silk plant.

Pillows on bed

4.  Pop a couple of green pillows on a neutral sofa or bed to liven it up for spring. Add a coordinating lightweight throw to keep you warm all year long.

5.  Wash and save green jars and bottles. Display them in a window and fill with Gerber daisies.

6. Paint a feature wall. Green goes so well with many colors, so why not add it to any room of the house? Be sure to get swatches from the paint store and tape those up; look at them in a variety of light. In my experience, green has the most tendency to change dramatically from the paint chip in the store to the wall in the house, so when you’ve narrowed your choices to two or three, buy a small sample pot and paint a test swatch.

7. Create an art display. Purchase four 8×10 canvases and four coordinating shades of green craft paint. Paint each canvas a different color with two good coats and allow to dry thoroughly. Then paint an image or geometric shape in one of the other colors, so each canvas uses two colors. Try a fern stencil and repeat the image on each canvas using a different color on each one. Each will be unique yet coordinate well together. Hang in a row on a long wall or two by two in a smaller space.

With one or more of these easy fixes, your neighbors and friends will no doubt be green with envy!

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Where’s the corn?

(c) Scruggelgreen/Fotolia

Corned beef and cabbage have become synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S. But, you may ask, where is the “corn” in corned beef? Like many modern day traditions, the answer lies in the deep, distant past.

Thousands of years ago, nomads discovered that they could preserve meat by curing it in rock salt. The word “corn” in Old English is a generic term for any small particle. In fact, the term “corns of salt” first appeared in the Oxford Dictionary in 888 A.D.Today corned beef is vacuum packed in a salt brine solution, often with pickling spices (cinnamon, mustard seed, bay leaves, allspice, dill seed, cloves, ginger, peppercorns, coriander, juniper berries, mace, and cardamom). Most corned beef uses a brisket cut which requires long, slow cooking to break down the collagen in the connective tissue to make it tender.

The Irish were major exporters of corned beef until 1825, and although they exported the meat they rarely ate beef for holiday celebrations. Instead they preferred ham or a cut of pork called a bacon joint which they cooked with potatoes and cabbage. When Irish immigrants in America found they could not find the bacon joint, they substituted the Jewish brisket cut of corned beef. Thus, corned beef and cabbage is an Irish-American concoction and has been consumed for St. Patrick’s Day since the mid-1800’s.

Here are some safe handling tips for corned beef from the USDA:

  • Uncooked corned beef in a pouch with pickling juices which has a “sell-by” date or no date may be stored 5 to 7 days in the refrigerator, unopened. Products with a “use-by” date can be stored unopened in the refrigerator until that date.
  • Refrigerate any leftover corned beef promptly—within 2 hours of cooking or reheating.
  • Use leftover corned beef within 3 to 4 days or freeze 2 to 3 months.
  • For tenderness and texture, cook until the corned beef reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 160 °F or above.
  • Corned beef may still be pink in color after cooking if nitrite was used in the curing process. This does not mean it is not done. The nitrite fixes pigment in the meat and affects the color. (My personal opinion – try to find a corned beef that does not have nitrites. You may have to go to an organic market or specialty store. I found one at Trader Joe’s.)
  • Allow the brisket to stand for about 10 minutes after removing from the heat. This will make it easier to slice, and it is best sliced diagonally across the grain of the meat.Corned beef can be cooked on the stove, in the microwave, in the oven or in a slow cooker. Recipes abound online, and cooking instructions are typically printed on the corned beef packaging.

I prefer to use a slow cooker to make my St. Pat’s Day treat, and I use beer for the cooking liquid. It just takes the corned beef to another level of richness. I use onions, carrots and potatoes in the bottom of slow cooker and add small wedges of cabbage when I come home from work. If you don’t like cabbage, omit it. Since it doesn’t cook with the meat too long, it doesn’t add any flavor to the roast. Serve with some Dijon mustard (mixed with horseradish if you like) and sour cream for the potatoes and cabbage.

One last tip – purchase your corned beef several days St. Patrick’s Day (even a week before); don’t wait until the 17th as stores do run out. (That is experience talking!)

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