St. Patrick’s Day and Drinking: A Brief History

Mar 09

Saint Patrick is known more for his holiday than the feats he accomplished while alive, and who can really be surprised? History has shown us that if something is turned into a celebration, we are always ready to join in. Thus, on March 17th every year, decked out in their finest green attire, people all across the country indulge in a day of Irish-themed customs, namely, the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol. Before we indulge in our green beverages of choice this year, let’s examine how a day designed to celebrate Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland and alleged snake-banisher, turned into one of the deadliest days on American roads.

The Story of Saint Patrick

Believe it or not, Saint Patrick wasn’t actually Irish; he was born in Great Britain in the fifth century. Around the age of 16, Patrick was captured and brought to Ireland where he lived as a slave for six years before escaping, returning home, and becoming a cleric. Eventually drawn back to Ireland by a vision, he returned and is credited with bring Christianity to Ireland. He is also credited with driving all of the snakes out of Ireland. While it is true that there are no snakes in Ireland, there never was! As Ireland is surrounded by wanted too frigid for snakes to migrate, the snakes of lore are symbolic of the pagan converts Patrick brought about. He continued his work in Ireland until his death on March 17th, 461.

The Story of St. Patrick’s Day

Centuries after his death, Patrick began to be honored as the patron saint of Ireland. The date of his death, St. Patrick’s Day, became a minor religious holiday in Ireland. In fact, until about the 1970’s pubs in Ireland were closed on March 17th in honor of the holy day. Over time, however, the celebration style has evolved. The prevalence of the holiday grew out of America. First homesick Irish soldiers began marching through the streets in honor of their culture and homeland on this day. Then, the communities of Irish immigrants in cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago began expanding the celebration and using the day to reconnect with their roots and traditions. Shamrocks and the color green are staples of the celebrations, as is classic cuisine and beverages- especially if it’s green and alcoholic. Now, the holiday is a staple of spring celebrations in America and other places across the world. Why, however, is drinking so synonymous with the holiday in its current form?

Drinking on Saint Patrick’s Day

If you ask anyone what their plans are for St. Patrick’s Day, it the person is overage and partaking, there is a good chance that celebration will involve an alcoholic beverage. But why did “drowning the shamrock” become the sole purpose of this day? Most cite the time of year that holiday falls during: Lent. This religious observance that spans the six weeks leading up to Easter and is used as a time of prayer, reflection, penance and self-denial, and many give up vices and other celebratory actions during this time. On St. Patrick’s Day, however, Lenten restrictions are often lifted, allowing many celebrators their only allowed night of revelry during the observance. Many believe that this is the root of the overindulgence that seems to be here to stay on March 17th every year.

St. Patrick’s Day Safety

As the sun rises on the 18th of March and the green dye fades from our hair, our drinks, even our rivers, however, the sobering reality of a night celebrated by so many people and involving so many drinks isn’t pretty. According to the NHTSA, in 2012, 3 out of every 4 people who died after St. Patrick’s Day celebrations died in drunk driving crashes. We all know how dangerous drunk driving is; on March 17th the risks are even greater.

St. Patrick’s Day Infographic
This year, before you head out to celebrate, I urge you to plan ahead. If you don’t have a designated driver, plan to take a taxi. Tell a loved one your plans and ask them to check in with you throughout the night. Have an emergency backup ride, just in case. Always remember that just because you planned ahead and are driving sober it doesn’t mean everyone else is doing the same. Keep your eyes on the road at all times and be ready to react to unsafe situations. The safest thing you can do is stay home, however, if you must go out, please plan ahead, drive sober, and stay alert.

Please take the necessary steps to keep yourselves safe while on the road this St. Patrick’s Day; even the luck of the Irish runs out.

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