While the rest of the world throws on green clothing and piles into bars before 10 a.m., how can you make this St. Patrick’s Day meaningful for your little leprechauns?
With so much of the story lost to legend, trying to find meaning could discourage you … but don’t let it.
Before St. Patrick’s Day was all parades, rainbows, pots o’ gold, leprechauns, and lots of green beer, it honored Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick. This religious feast actually celebrates the man who brought Christianity to Ireland.
Slave, Missionary, and Saint
Surprisingly, Ireland’s patron saint was not Irish.
In the fifth century, Irish raiders kidnapped 16-year-old Maewyn Succat from his home in Britain (then part of the Roman Empire). For the next six years, Maewyn tended sheep as a slave boy. On the lonely Irish hillsides, he accepted Christ.
Maewyn eventually escaped, walked 200 miles to the Irish coast, found his way back to Britain, and adopted the Christian name Patrick.
In 432 A.D., at age 60, Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary. He preached and built schools and monasteries.
When he died on March 17 in 461 A.D., Patrick fell into obscurity…but only for a time.
Fact or Fiction?
After Patrick became the Patron Saint of Ireland, myths swirled around him.
One myth claims St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. In truth, Ireland never had any snakes. The ocean water is too cold for snakes to migrate from Britain or Europe. However, this myth could symbolize St. Patrick’s role in cleansing the island of paganism.
Another myth says St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover – or shamrock – to explain the Holy Trinity. While this could be true, shamrocks do not actually exist. Shamrocks are similar, though, to three real plants: wood sorrel, white clover, and yellow clover.
In the 18th century, Irish Christians started wearing shamrock pins on March 17 to show their Irish/Christian pride. Eventually, this tradition morphed from wearing shamrocks to wearing green clothing.
The Raucous Party Begins
Since March 17 falls in the middle of Lent, Irish Catholics used St. Patrick’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate. Men drank a couple pints of beer at the bar. Women cooked meat (which was normally off-limits during Lent).
When hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants came to America during the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s, they kicked things up a notch.
Irish American soldiers held the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City in 1762. They marched through lower Manhattan to a tavern. Today, 200,000 participants and three million spectators take part in New York City’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.
School Day Crafts
Since St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Tuesday this year, try incorporating one of these fun and educational crafts into your school day. Take the opportunity to teach your kids about the importance of forgiveness and evangelism from St. Patrick’s story.
Buy a bouquet of white carnations. At home, add a few drops of green food coloring to water in a vase. Cut off several inches from the ends of the carnations, and place them in the green water.
The veins of the stem—called the xylem and phloem—will carry the green water up the stem to the flower, turning the white petals green. You can turn this into a science lesson on why.
Rainbow Bible Lesson
From Crafty Morning blog
- White cardstock paper
- White crayon
Draw a shamrock shape in the middle of your paper with the white crayon. Tell your kids to press hard.
Once finished with the crayon, paint the shamrock green with the watercolors. Then, paint rainbow stripes around the shamrock. (You may want to paint the green rainbow stripes toward the edges of the paper so they don’t merge with the shamrock.)
Label the shamrock leaves with “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit.” Help your kids brainstorm attributes of God that start with the first letter of each color in the rainbow (e.g. Righteous for Red, Over-All for Orange…).
Rainbow Jar Chemistry
From Play Dough to Plato blog
- Tall, see-through container (e.g. mason jar)
- Light corn syrup
- Dish soap (either blue Dawn or green Palmolive)
- Olive oil
- Rubbing alcohol
- Food coloring
- A dropper
Pour the honey into the jar first. Make sure it does not touch the sides.
Color the corn syrup with purple food coloring and pour it on top of the honey. Again, make sure it does not touch the sides.
Add the dish soap.
If your dish soap is green, color the water blue. If your dish soap is blue, color the water green. Once colored, pour the water in the middle without touching the sides.
Add the olive oil. Pour a generously thick layer.
Finally, color the rubbing alcohol red, but don’t pour it in the middle! Use the dropper to add it along the sides of the container. (If it breaks through the oil layer into the water layer, it will pick up the blue or green dye and ruin your rainbow.)
Hold your completed rainbow up to the light.
Since different liquids have different amounts of molecules in them, they have different weights or densities. The liquids with more molecules weigh more and fall to the bottom. The ones with fewer molecules weigh less and stay at the top.
Time to Feast
After a full day of St. Patrick’s Day-themed school lessons, your family will be hungry for an Irish feast.
Ironically, the “traditional” corned beef and cabbage meal we know and love is not Irish. It’s Irish American.
Back in Ireland, Irish Christians ate boiled bacon and potatoes. When they immigrated to America, they were the poorest of the poor. They substituted the cheapest piece of meat (beef) and the cheapest vegetable (cabbage), for bacon and potatoes.
And just so you know, most versions of Irish soda bread have been “Americanized.” The traditional Irish version contains only four ingredients – flour, salt, soda, and buttermilk. That’s it.
According to Irish chef Rory O’Connell, soda bread was introduced in the early 1800s. It worked well for people who didn’t have an oven (and hardly anyone had an oven at that time). They cooked the bread in a big cast-iron pot with a lid, set directly onto coals.
The ingredients were readily available… buttermilk from the cows (buttermilk is a byproduct of making butter), and flour from the wheat they grew. Butter would not have been put into the bread, but would have been slathered liberally on the baked bread.
With just four ingredients and no kneading, your preschoolers could probably be enlisted to help make it.
Since we know you’re busy, we provided a crock-pot version of corned beef and cabbage in the recipe section.
We also included easy recipes for horseradish cream sauce and Irish soda bread (simple enough for the young ones to make).
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Crock Pot Corned Beef and Cabbage
- 1 grassfed corned beef brisket (about 3 pounds), plus pickling spice packet
- 4 to 6 potatoes, quartered
- 1 pound large carrots, cut into 3-inch pieces
- 2 leeks, cut into 3-inch pieces (white and light-green parts only), or 1 onion, cut into wedges
- 1 to 2 cups water
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 T. brown sugar
- 2 T. cider vinegar or apple juice
- ½ t. black pepper
- 1 bay leaf (discard before serving)
- ½ head cabbage, cut into wedges
- Place potatoes, carrots, leek, garlic, sugar, pepper, bay leaf, and vinegar in a large slow cooker. Add the water and the corned beef (fat side up) with the pickling spices.*
- Cover and cook on high for 4 ¼ hours (or on low for 8 ½ hours).
- Add the cabbage wedges. Cover and continue cooking until cabbage is tender, about another 45 minutes on high (or 1 ½ hours on low).
- Slice the corned beef against the grain and serve with vegetables and cabbage.
- Makes about 6 servings.
* Note: These pickling spices may contain questionable ingredients, and with the onion, garlic, pepper and bay leaf, you might not even miss it. It’s your call…
- 1 cup sour cream
- 6 tablespoons prepared white horseradish
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped dill pickle
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives or green onion tops
- Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.
- Chill in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours before serving.
Traditional Irish Soda Bread
During the destitute days of the Irish potato famine, this bread was often the only food available. It contained only flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. Anything else makes it a “tea cake.” They had buttermilk available from their dairy, and grain that was locally grown… making the most of what was available.
- 3½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. salt
- About 1½ cups buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a large baking sheet or a round pan.
- In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Stir in the buttermilk.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead ever so slightly, about 1 minute. Shape into a round loaf, about 6” in diameter by 2” high. (It will still be sticky.) Place on the prepared baking sheet.
- Cut a large “X” into the top of the loaf with a sharp knife, almost to the edges.
- Bake till bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped, about 35 to 45 minutes. Wrapping it in a towel when you take it out helps soften the crust.