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Celebrating the Green in Ireland

Ever wondered how the little green Shamrock came to be the popular symbol of Ireland?

According to legend, St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity when converting a pagan Irish king to Christianity.

Sometimes when a holiday crosses international borders its characteristics change. Just look how differently holidays like Christmas and Easter are celebrated, even in countries closely connected with each other by culture and economics.

But the celebration of Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland, where it all began, is not that different from how it is celebrated in the United States.

It's one of those holidays that everyone seems to want a part of, even if they do not have one drop of Irish descent in their past.

In Ireland, the holiday is more of a religious holiday than it is in the United States, in some ways similar to Christmas and Easter.

The towns still have grand parades and community feasts but they also have charity shows and mass is a central part of the day.

In fact, the parades, shamrocks, and green beer are there largely for out-of-towners and out-of-country folk who seem to flock to the emerald isles for that very day.

Apparently, there are so many celebrations going on between March 15 and 19 that it can become confusing not only for tourists but also for island folk as well.

A truly carnival atmosphere provides the backdrop in Dublin, the capital city, when Ireland's greatest annual party takes over. Dublin city comes alive with a host of exciting events, including street theatre, music, dance, comedy, film, exhibitions, symposiums, fun fairs and even a treasure hunt.

This year visitors will enjoy the spectacular St. Patrick's Day Festival parade - under the motto "Wishful Thinking." They will be able to join in the dancing at the largest outdoor C�il�, or choose from a selection of Irish music concerts.

Streets in Dublin are closed to traffic and the city centre becomes a playground as revelers enjoy the entertainment, most of which is free. The "craic" (an Irish word for fun) is guaranteed.

All around the island of Ireland, in the cities, towns and villages, festivities are taking place to mark Ireland's national holiday.

In Cork, the St. Patrick's Festival 2006 promises to be a fiesta of loud colors and flights of fancy, with marching bands from Ireland and America, samba bands, dancers, street theatre performers, pageants and hundreds of community carnival groups from all over the country.

St Patrick's Day also provides a focal point for celebrations in many other towns in Ireland. Some of these festivals include Armagh, Belfast, Downpatrick, Galway, and Kerry.

In the village of Downpatrick, Co. Down, where St. Patrick is buried, an award-winning visitor centre tells the full story of Saint Patrick.

Saint Patrick's Day in the United States has an early history. Irish immigrants, just like the English, Dutch, German, and French brought their traditions to this country. But it wasn't until 1737 that the day was officially celebrated here.

It was in Boston where the day was first celebrated in a public way. Gradually other states began to join the holiday parade and it was in New York where the biggest parade has almost always been held. That parade began in 1762 and it draws more than one million spectators each year.

Chicago has developed a unique tradition of coloring the river water of the Chicago River green. That tradition started in 1962 when 100 pounds of green vegetable dye was added to the river that splits downtown in half, enough to keep the waterway green for a week. That has changed over the years. Now revelers pour 40 pounds of a green food coloring in the river to keep it green for only a few hours.

Irish communities in various cities celebrate the day with social and community works. Making charities, attending mass, promoting their own culture and feasting with their foods.

Despite all these varieties, all are driven by a unique theme: an Irish day.

No other country actually has its own day that is celebrated like this one. There is no British day, French day or Chinese day, or days named after people that are revered internationally like this, except Christmas.

Saint Patrick's Day is known for fun, light heartedness and frivolity.

It is the day when everyone wants to be Irish.

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