This is a holiday I have observed verrrrry differently at the various stages of my life thus far. You know, I know, we all know. No judgement. As I was thinking about the holiday this year, some things I hadn’t truly considered before crossed my mind about St Patrick’s Day. In an effort to create a clear and well- rounded picture of what exactly we are celebrating, this week we will: re-examine the history of the day, open up some discussions for talking about it with our kids and yes, we’ll still do some fun things. I’m not a party pooper.
Why are we celebrating this day?
I grew up attending Catholic schools and even worked at one for many years. St Patrick’s Day, like Christmas and Easter were always laid out for me pretty clearly. We attended assemblies, read the saint stories, and had lessons on the meaning behind it all. As a non-confirmed Catholic, my connection to these days does fall somewhere adjacent to that for others.
That being said, whether we identify as Catholics or not, I think it’s important for the spirit of community to know and understand the history behind religious holidays. This goes for holidays one observes and holidays that one does not. Knowing what others observe and why makes us better and stronger citizens and neighbors. If your kids are like mine at all, they might also love Daniel Tiger. We know it is the highest of high compliments to be a good neighbor, Ugga Mugga!
In a nut shell, St Patrick’s Day is celebrated annually on the 17th of March. The date’s significance is that it recognizes the anniversary of the death of St Patrick just a stone’s throw away back in the fifth century. Irish families have observed the holiday for over 1000 years! The day begins in church and ends with celebration, dancing and as tradition would have it, Irish bacon and cabbage.
When I was a kid, I was fascinated by stories of the saints. I always thought that the saints were these super holy do-gooder people and that was the end of it. But, nope- some of them are WILD. First of all, there are a gazillion saints and not all of them were full- time goody goodies. We know a lot of them, but there are loads more we haven’t heard of, simply because they just aren’t as famous.
I remember coming across an obscure saint named, Polycarp, who used to hang out with John the Apostle. He seems like he was a decent enough fellow and was quite elderly when he was sentenced to death for a reason I can’t remember. What I most remember about Polycarp, despite his fishy name, is that he is the patron saint of, wait for it….dysentery. I think of Polycarp every time someone begins reminiscing about The Oregon Trail.
Who was St Patrick?
So, let’s talk about the man of the hour! St Patrick is nearly synonymous with Ireland itself. He is the patron saint of all Ireland. Patrick was born British, captured and brought to Ireland as a teenage slave in the fifth century. Interestingly, even though he escaped his servitude after some 5 or 6 years, he later returned to Ireland of his own volition, bringing Christianity with him and to the Irish people.
As it goes with saints, their stories become legends. Myths and fact become one in the same. One of the legends surrounding Patrick is that he used the shamrock as a symbol of the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). Shamrocks are native to Ireland and I like to think that his visual representation was a great teaching opportunity for his converts. Cheers to all the teachers!
St Patrick’s Day today
The history of St Patrick’s Day is steeped in tradition, religion and heritage. Today, America celebrates the holiday somewhat differently. Bar crawls are organized and attendees come dressed as leprechauns, drink green beer and parade around cities nationwide. Interestingly, though there is caricature of this, the contemporary celebrations are reflective of some of the first St Patrick’s Day celebrations here in America.
In 1845, the Great Potato Famine devastated Ireland so acutely, that Irish immigrants fled the country in desperation. Roughly 1 million Irish citizens arrived at ports in America in hopes of a better life. American cities did not welcome the Irish. They came in such droves, almost all were starving, poor and largely uneducated. Their struggles did not improve until they took charge of their massive population and gained political holds in early American government.
The Irish organized parades to honor their heritage and celebrate the life of St Patrick, thus sparking the inception of modern St Patrick’s Day parades. I think that early celebrations had less green beer and more authenticity to them. Just a hunch. The early Irish Americans can be credited for the transition from solemn religious holiday to the lively celebration that St Patrick’s Day is today.
Talking to the kids
Just to circle back to what I said earlier. It is important to examine the history behind holidays, even if it is not a holiday we celebrate for our own religious observance. For example, I got some books and resources on Kwanzaa and Hanukkah for my kids. Frankly, in Catholic school, we didn’t spend a whole lot of time exploring the history of Hanukkah or other religious holidays. So, I have tried to take the opportunity to learn now and am doing some of that with my kids.
Regarding St Patrick’s Day, I didn’t want my kids to associate the day with leprechauns, pinching and down the road (way down the road) green beer and tipsy bar crawls. I mean, look, most of that is pretty fun, but so is being educated. So spend some time learning about what the day is all about, do your 5ks and wear al the green. It’s fun! I don’t think anyone will disagree that the Irish know how to through a good party. All that being said, I promised some fun things for you. So, onward to the fun!
To the fun!
First and foremost, I saw this amazing cookie recipe for a green sugar cookie with Lucky Charms baked into it. I don’t really bake and I promise this isn’t going to turn into a cooking blog, but if someone finds the recipe for those cookies and wants to send them to me, that would be cooooool.
Anyway, for St Patrick’s Day good times (without green beer) for the KIDS, we have the following activities for you!
These are great for home or school and a variety of age levels. Make sure you buy a box of Lucky Charms to use for the Charms Graphing activity and then you have a snack on hand! Macklyn also created some great resources for us this week to practice sight words and bolster memory. We hope your kids and students enjoy working on our St Patrick’s Day themed activities, especially with the winter weather that is slated to come our way this weekend. Here in Maryland, we are accustomed to experiencing beautiful near 80 degree days followed by a winter weather alert!
Before we part ways today, I wanted to share this great book that was recently suggested to me. O’Sullivan Stew by Hudson Talbott is available here on Amazon. The story centers around vibrant Kate O’ Sullivan and is set, you guest it, in Ireland. When someone steals the horse belonging to the witch of Crookhaven, the whole village is plunged into chaos. When Kate attempts to settle the conflict, she finds herself in deep water with the king himself. The story is funny, charming, empowering and perfect for celebrating Irish heritage!
Some other great titles are:
Fiona’s Luck by Teresa Bateman– Greedy leprechaun King, witty girl, Irish charm!
How to Catch a Leprechaun by Andy Elkerton– Magic, hilarity, STEAM concepts!
Tim O’Toole and the Wee Folk by Gerald McDermott– Caldecott winner, more leprechauns and lots of hope and magic sprinkled throughout!
Thanks for hanging with us this Friday before the Maryland snowstorm. Happy early St Patrick’s Day to you and your families. Wear your best green and enjoy some magic. Take care!
Courtney is an MTT tutor, academic coach, and blog contributor for MTTES. If you check out our FB and Instagram pages, you might see her giving a storytime with her son Jack through the company’s Facebook Live service. Courtney’s love of the English language, learning, and creative writing inspired her to contribute relevant content to teachers, tutors, parents, and homeschoolers seeking support across an array of trending topics. She and her teacher husband have two small children and reside in Baltimore, MD with their dog Lottie May.