5 Ideas for a Victorian St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, and if you’re fresh out of party ideas this year, never fear! Here are 5 ways for you and your family to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the Victorian way.


The Cherry Hill Farmhouse

The Cherry Hill Farmhouse (Photo: Gary Mester)


1. Attend an historic event. Did you know that the first St. Patrick’s Day parade wasn’t in Ireland, but in New York in 1762? Stationed in Boston due to the French and Indian War (known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War), a group of Irish men serving in the British army marched through the streets of New York City. Today, the largest parades are in Boston and New York, while the oldest continuous parade is held in Savannah, Georgia. For a more intimate and authentically Victorian experience, visit the Cherry Hill Farmhouse in Falls Church, Virginia; every year, the city holds a Celtic music concert in the parlor of the fully-restored 1845 farmhouse.


The Celtic Music Festival at the Cherry Hill Farmhouse

The Celtic Music Festival at the Cherry Hill Farmhouse (Photo: City of Falls Church)


2. Eat meat. Lots of meat. During the Victorian era, St. Patrick’s Day was (as it still is) a religious holiday in Catholic Ireland, its atmosphere comprable to that of Thanksgiving in America; traditionally, one would attend mass in the morning and feast with family and friends in the afternoon. While the holy day fell in the middle of Lent–the 40 days of fasting that leads up to Easter–the Roman Catholic Church lifted restrictions against eating meat for the day so that Irish communities could celebrate their patron saint. As a result, corned beef and cabbage became an extremely popular St. Patrick’s Day dish; in America, about 28 billion pounds of corned beef and cabbage was produced in 2009 (However, we hear that lamb is actually a more authentic Irish dish for St. Patrick’s Day.)! Other popular traditional dishes include Irish soda bread, baked potato soup and fruit tarts.


3. Brush up that Irish accent by reading great literature aloud. Some of the best literature written in the English language was penned by the Irish between 1800 and 1914. Whether you want to read scary stories by firelight or act out a comedy with the kids, our favorite Irish writers will give you what you need:

  • For a good scare: Introduce your teenage Twihards to real literature with Dracula by Bram Stoker (1847-1912), the first modern vampire novel.
  • For a good laugh: Pick up The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), a hilarious satire of the British upper class.
  • For magic, monsters and fairy maidens: Delve into “The Wanderings of Oisin,” a collection of  poems based on Irish myths (and featuring St. Patrick himself!) by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), who became first Irish writer to win the Nobel Prize in 1923.
  • For a sing-along dramedy: Rediscover Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). Shaw remains the only writer to have earned both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar for the same work–his stage play and screenplay for Pygmalion, which was later adapted into the beloved musical My Fair Lady 
  • For a realistic portrayal of Ireland, 100 years ago: Savor the short stories in Dubliners by James Joyce (1882-1941), who is often credited with “inventing” literary modernism


4. Give greeting cards. In the 1850s, the Industrial Revolution, well, revolutionized the concept of the greeting card, transforming it from an expensive, hand-made object d’art into a mass-produced piece of ephemera that one could purchase in an ordinary store. Antique St. Patrick’s Day cards are affordable collectibles, often going for less than $10 on eBay.


5. Be grateful. When one thinks of St. Patrick’s Day in the Victorian era, one can’t evade the Irish potato famine, which lasted from 1845 to 1852, killing one million Irish men and women and forcing another million to leave their homeland (If you live in North America and are of Irish decent, chances are your family emigrated from Ireland during the famine.). Caused and exacerbated by the British Parliament’s mismanagement and neglect, the “Great Famine” prompted the rise in Irish nationalism and unrest that led to the war for independence in 1919-1921. Today, historians refer to the famine as a watershed moment that initiated Ireland into the modern era–and as an event that need not have happened. So there’s good reason to of St. Patrick’s Day as similar to Thanksgiving; and as you feast on beef and cabbage and potato soup this St. Patrick’s Day, take a moment to be grateful for simple things like the freedom to enjoy goofy, green-dyed food with your family and friends.


by Elaine K. Phillips


To learn more, visit history.comepicurious.com and greetingcard.org.


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