St. Patrick’s Day explained and Toronto events this weekend
Every March, the people of the city celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with booze, parties, parades and green robes.
But the holiday, as the name suggests, actually has religious origins and used to be much quieter celebrations.
Anthony Trindle, a visiting Irish language scholar in the Celtic Studies Program at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, explains.
What is St. Patrick’s Day really about?
St Patrick’s Day, which falls on March 17 each year, is a religious holiday celebrating one of Ireland’s three patron saints, said Trindle, who is credited with introducing Christianity to the nation.
Commemorating the day St Patrick died (AD 465), Trindle said he was believed to have been born in what is now Britain when it was under Roman rule.
“When he was about 16 he was captured by Irish pirates… (They) took him back to Ireland where he was enslaved for several years,” Trindle said. “The story goes that he heard a voice from heaven telling him to go back to Britain – back to his family. And he did. He’s had a great trip. He fled back to the UK… and eventually found his family.
“He began to study Christianity and after a few more years he had a vision telling him to return to Ireland to bring Christianity to the Irish people… And it is still believed that he was at least one was the first person to bring Christianity to Ireland, perhaps the very first person,” he explained.
The saint founded a monastery in Armagh, Northern Ireland. Today, St. Patrick’s Cathedral stands on the site, Trindle said. St. Patrick is also behind the symbolism of the shamrock.
“St. Patrick actually took (it) as a symbol when he first taught the Irish about Christianity,” he said. “He used the three leaves of the shamrock to represent the Holy Trinity.”
Where is it celebrated?
St Patrick’s Day is a public holiday celebrated in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Montserrat in the Caribbean and Newfoundland in Canada. St. Patrick is also the patron saint of Nigeria, Trindle said.
Traditional celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day
“In Ireland, I compare it to Good Friday,” Trindle said. “On Good Friday all pubs in Ireland were closed until (a few) years ago… It was considered a holy day. There would be no drinking, no pubs, no alcohol.
“St. Patrick’s was basically the same up until the 1970s,” he said.
The annual parades — which are now “a staple of the holiday” — actually originated in the United States, Trindle noted, with the first taking place in New York in 1662.
“The idea of the parade was kind of reinforced from the US to Ireland,” he said. “The US plays a very central role in how the whole world and even Ireland see St. Patrick’s Day.”
In Toronto, the parade was banned in 1878 due to tensions between Catholics and Protestants, Trindle added, and didn’t return until 1988. However, he noted that the holiday is celebrated in all religious sects.
Trindle stressed that most members of the Irish government were abroad this week, using the holiday to promote Irish culture. The finance minister and health minister are in Canada, he said. And it is now tradition for the Irish Prime Minister to travel to Washington DC and present the American President with a bowl of shamrocks.
St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Toronto
This Sunday, parishioners march through Bloor, Yonge and Queen streets in Toronto’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The event begins at 12pm at St George Street and Bloor Street West and ends at Nathan Phillips Square. The line of march takes an hour and a half at any point along the route. Among those in attendance will be Ireland’s Finance Minister Michael McGrath.
In preparation for the celebration, the TTC will increase service on subway lines 1 and 2 on Sunday and reroute some service routes.
But the celebrations begin on Friday.
St. Patrick’s Loft Party at the Blue Moon Brewery in Stackt Market returns after a three-year hiatus at 5 p.m. and features “fast lines, more beer, organic vodka, freebies” and more for a $20 entry fee .
The Fort York neighborhood market is also hosting a “Feelin Lucky” daytime party for ages 19+ starting at 4:00 p.m. Remaining tickets for the event cost around US$25.
The Queen Elizabeth Theater also features live Celtic music by Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy on Friday at 7:30pm. Tickets for the family-friendly event range from $34 to $68.
The Black Pearl Lounge hosts Friday and Saturday events with 18 live musicians playing “Irish-inspired tunes”. Admission is $10.
This coming weekend, March 24-26, the Toronto Irish Film Festival will host the TIFF Bell Lightbox for the 13th time. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12.50 for students and seniors.
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