I went to my local bagel place the other day for my regular bagel and cream cheese. As I was waiting in line, I scanned the baskets of bagels of various flavors to make my pick. What will it be today… an onion bagel, a poppy-seed bagel, or maybe a raisin bagel? Wait, what on earth are those neon green ones? Is that a new flavor? What could it possibly be?
And then I remembered: it is Saint Patrick’s Day. And those are St. Patrick’s Day bagels. With the traditional Irish flavor of… green food coloring.
Yes, this is a real thing in the US: dyeing food green for St. Patrick’s Day. No, really. I’m not making this up. Beer is similarly morphed into a bright green color using food dye. Some cities even dye entire rivers green for the holiday, a well spent use of municipal funds. Today I saw a girl with green highlights in her hair, but I didn’t dare ask her if she had died it especially for St. Paddy’s Day.
It is as though the St. Patrick’s Day “holiday” has been distilled down to the color green, in the same way that Valentine’s Day has co-opted the color red, Halloween is represented by orange and black, and red and green are the colors of the birth of Jesus Christ. But, perhaps in the case of St. Patrick’s Day, it makes sense for the holiday to be so focused on the color, because after all, what American has the foggiest idea who St. Patrick is? And what are we celebrating about him? His love of green bagels and beer?
Well, it turns out St. Patrick was a 5th century Christian missionary born in Roman Britain around A.D. 390. He wasn’t even Irish. He did live in Ireland, working tirelessly to convert the Irish to Christianity until his death on March 17th, A.D. 461 (well, no one is entirely sure about when he died, since he was mostly forgotten immediately after his death, but March 17th is the date that is generally agreed).
So this is the man the Irish are celebrating. Or are they? A bit of historical research reveals that St. Patrick’s Day is basically a holiday invented by Irish Americans. The first celebrations for St. Patrick were recorded in Boston, Massachusetts in 1737. And the first St. Patrick’s Day parades were held in New York in 1762, when Irish soldiers serving in the British army in the US Revolutionary War marched through the streets to reconnect with their Irish roots. Today, New York City has the largest St. Patrick’s day parade in the world. Until the 1970s, St. Patrick’s day was nothing more than a minor religious holiday in Ireland (now it is a national holiday). Would any Irish readers like to comment on if/how St. Patrick’s day is celebrated in Ireland?
At the café today, I sat next to a guy who was chatting with his friend about the café’s offering of pastries and ice cream. He said, “Maybe I should get something green flavored for St. Patrick’s day. They have pistachio flavored ice cream. Pistachio is green.” Mind you, this guy was also wearing a green tie and a green ribbon medallion saying “Kiss Me, I’m Irish.” So maybe “real” Irish people do eat green food on St. Patrick’s Day.