Interesting Facts About St. Patrick’s Day in Latin America
Do people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Latin America? In certain countries, yes, and it’s called el Día de San Patricio.
It may surprise you to learn that more countries worldwide celebrate St. Patrick’s Day than any other national holiday. While it began as a Christian celebration honoring Ireland’s patron saint, Patrick, it has evolved into a full-on shamrock party. Countless parades, festivals, and celebrations take place across the globe in countries as far-flung as Japan, Singapore, Canada, Argentina, India, and Turkey. People celebrate the day annually on March 17, the anniversary of Patrick’s death, as a commemoration of Irish culture via street parties, traditional foods, music, dance, drinking, and—of course—a ton of green.
A Brief History of St. Paddy’s Day
A native of Roman Britain, Patrick lived in the late 4th century. As the story goes, a band of pirates kidnapped him as a teen and took him to Ireland as a slave. With some forethought and planning, he escaped his enslavement, allowing him to eventually return to his homeland, where he entered the clergy. It was years later that he returned to Ireland to convert the Irish to Christianity and establish Catholic churches, monasteries, and schools. Many legends developed around Patrick. Eventually, the legends surrounding Patrick say that he drove the snakes out of Ireland and used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity.
Hence, the Irish have observed this religious holiday for over 1,000 years. It falls during the Christian season of Lent, so families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat and alcohol were temporarily lifted and people would dance, drink, and feast on the traditional fare of Irish bacon and cabbage.
Who Celebrates St. Patrick’s Day?
As a matter of fact, 18th century Irish emigrants to the United States are the ones who made St. Patrick’s Day into what it is today—a secular holiday of raucous celebration of all things Irish. Boston held its inaugural St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1737, while New York City got started in 1762. Since 1962, Chicago has dyed its river green every March 17.
As for St. Patrick’s day in Latin America, the holiday is a reminder of the Irish diaspora that migrated throughout the region. Both Mexico and Argentina, for example, hold the Irish in great esteem for reasons we’ll explore below.
The Ireland-Mexico Connection
In the 1840s, Ireland was facing the Potato Famine, a terrible crisis that killed over a million people. Those who had the necessary resources moved to other countries in pursuit of health and happiness.
The Irish Defectors
As a result, many Irishmen joined the U.S. Army, where they dealt with harsh discrimination from the Americans. During the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848, Irish soldiers deserted the U.S. Army to help the Mexican Army resist the U.S. invasion of Mexico, demonstrating their solidarity with Mexico. In turn, the Mexican government sweetened the deal by offering the Irish new land, officer commissions, and money. Led by a man named Jon Riley, the Irish soldiers were known as Saint Patrick’s Battalion. Many Irish soldiers who switched sides ended up as martyrs who were publicly hung for their actions.
Consequently, former Mexican President Vicente Fox stated that “the affinities between Ireland and Mexico go back to the first years of our nation, when our country fought to preserve its national sovereignty … Then, a brave group of Irish soldiers … in a heroic gesture, decided to fight against the foreign ground invasion.”
Mexico Honors the Irish
The Mexican government has honored the volunteers, naming streets and areas for the battalion. To the Mexicanos, the Irish men were fellow Catholics who stepped up to help the Mexican cause. According to the Irish Times, “there are plenty of Irish names sprinkled through the history of the wars of independence in Latin America. Roads, plazas, schools, football teams, even warships are named after Irish men and women who are revered in public memory for their contribution to achieving the independence of the Latin American republics.”
Mexico and Ireland have both issued postage stamps to commemorate the San Patricios. The Mexican government gifted a statue of Jon Riley to his hometown in Ireland. In 2010, the Grammy-winning Irish band, The Chieftains, released an album called San Patricio that features Mexican songs with artists like Carlos Nuñes, Linda Ronstadt, and Los Tigres del Norte.
St. Patrick’s Day in Argentina
Interestingly enough, Buenos Aires, Argentina is home to Latin America’s biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations outside of Mexico. Each year, the capital city hosts several festivals and events, including a huge street festival in the heart of the city. The event features music, dance performances by Celtic Argentina, and plenty of cerveza enjoyed among friends and family.
Little known fact: iconic revolutionary figure Ernesto “Che” Guevara was of Irish descent. Born in Buenos Aires in 1928, he was especially close with his paternal grandmother, Ana Isabel Lynch. She was the daughter of Irish immigrants who had sailed to Argentina from County Galway, Ireland, around the time of the Potato Famine.
More Famous Irish-Latinos
Did you know that Hollywood star Anthony Quinn is Latino? Born in Mexico in 1915 as Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca, he anglicized his name for the sake of his acting career. In one of his most well-known roles, he played Eufemio Zapata, brother to Marlon Brando’s Emiliano Zapata in the John Steinbeck film Viva Zapata!
Álvaro Obregón Salido
A famous Mexican revolutionary who served as Mexican president from 1920 to 1924, Alvaro Obregon descended from Irish immigrants. His original family name, O’Brian, was hispanicized when his ancestors settled in Mexico.
Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme
In the 1818 Chilean War of Independence, O’Higgins Riquelme and José de San Martín freed Chile from Spanish rule. O’Higgins ruled the country for six years after having been granted dictatorial powers. As a result of growing opposition and rival factions within his government, he was removed from office in 1823. Although he lived in exile for the rest of his life, O’Higgins Riquelme retains his legacy as one of the most important Chilean leaders in the country’s history.
Saint Patrick’s Day Vocabulary
Here are some common words and phrases related to St. Patrick’s day that you can use to strike up a lively conversation!
|Corned beef||La carne acecinada||car-nay ass-ess-ee-nah-dah|
|Emerald green||Verde esmeralda||ver-day ez-mare-owl-dah|
|Irish woman||La irlandesa||ear-lan-dess-ah|
|St. Patrick||San Patricio||San Pah-tree-cee-oh|
¡Feliz día de San Patricio!
Obviously, anywhere in the world where there are people of Irish descent, you can partake in a fiesty celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. For a delightful fusion of cultures, explore St. Patrick’s Day in Latin America!
To discuss this holiday and other little-known Latin American traditions with one of our professional Spanish teachers, sign up for a free online class.
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