Why do Russians attend a parade celebrating an Irish Catholic saint?

The feast of St. Patrick has nothing to do with Russian history and culture, but 25 years ago Muscovites and Irish expats began to celebrate the holiday, and its popularity has only grown since.

St. Patricks Day in Moscow, March 18, 2017. / Photo: Zurab JavakhadzeSt. Patricks Day in Moscow, March 18, 2017. / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze

In Russia, St. Patrick is known as the Apostle of the Irish and his feast day has been celebrated with street festivals, parades and pub discounts for already 25 years. Until this year, however, members of the Russian Orthodox clergy preferred not to mix this Catholic holiday, “a day of moneymaking for traders”, with religiosity, and treated it exclusively as a day of Irish culture.

St. Patricks Day in Moscow, March 18, 2017. / Photo: Zurab JavakhadzeSt. Patricks Day in Moscow, March 18, 2017. / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze

Muscovites seem happy with it: parades of people dressed in green, as leprechauns or carrying staffs and shamrocks have taken place in Moscow on March 17 every year, just as in many other countries.

St. Patricks Day in Moscow, March 18, 2017. / Photo: Zurab JavakhadzeSt. Patricks Day in Moscow, March 18, 2017. / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze

This year, however, the Orthodox Church “legalized” St. Patrick, and his feast day is now officially celebrated in Russia on March 30 (i.e. March 17 in the Julian calendar). The news, however, did nothing to deter Muscovites from celebrating the occasion on March 17, as they are used to doing.

St. Patricks Day in Moscow, March 18, 2017. / Photo: Zurab JavakhadzeSt. Patricks Day in Moscow, March 18, 2017. / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze

Yevgeny, 32, builder

St. Patrick's Day in Russia is one of those holidays celebrated in a liberal, Western atmosphere of freedom. Public festivities in Moscow are often accompanied by a heavy police presence, metal detectors, and security barriers. Not so in this case, however, where people are just walking and having fun, while policemen just blend into the crowd. It’s a rare thing. We don’t have enough of such an atmosphere in Russia. Maybe that's why this holiday is so popular here. I don’t think it’s associated with religion, maybe not even in Ireland.

'We don’t have enough of such an atmosphere in Russia.' / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze'We don’t have enough of such an atmosphere in Russia.' / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze

Fyodor, 25, system administrator

A friend told me there’s a wonderful parade here. This is my first time, and I got myself a beard and a shamrock. I’d also like to get a scarf and a flag! As far as I know, St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland. I don’t have any Irish roots, but I came here just to have fun. I don’t think many people here have Irish roots. You won’t find a single one! There are just Russians here, like at Maslenitsa celebrations.

'I came here just to have fun.' / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze'I came here just to have fun.' / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze

Darya, 22, a student at a teachers’ college

Like everyone here, I like to have fun and I like Ireland. Celtic legends, pagan symbols, fantastic fairy tales - all of that. This year I made a dress myself and made a diadem out of wire. And I bought these ears. As for the Orthodox Church recognizing this day, I find it strange, to be honest.

Look around you: people here – some are wearing horns, others are drunk since early morning although it’s Lent. Clearly, these do not look like Orthodox believers. As one senior official from the Church said: "Russian Orthodox believers do not drink here, they gather at home with their relatives." I think so too.

'I like to have fun and I like Ireland.' / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze'I like to have fun and I like Ireland.' / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze

I’m an agnostic, and all my acquaintances here are agnostics. We kind of believe in forces, but not in these. My mother is a Christian, and she’s very much against these hobbies of mine. The older generation don’t understand it at all. Look at elderly couples passing by; they’re completely bewildered, and asking, "What kind of saint is it? Which Patrick?”

Haan, 29, housewife

I'm 29, I'm a housewife and just a wild creature, who occasionally gets out of the house to attend these events. I made this costume myself overnight, from a piece of tarpaulin. Haan is my nickname. I never disclose my real name. I came up with it myself, and then I found out that it means a spring day in Turkic. So I kept it.

I know Patrick was an Irish saint, and that he cast out various evil spirits from Ireland. But what is it to us? We and all the others are here clearly not because of this. It's just that people here are kinder than at other public events.

'I made this costume myself overnight.' / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze'I made this costume myself overnight.' / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze

While we were walking from the metro, one person started singing and all the others immediately joined in: “Put glasses on the table… Everybody says that one shouldn’t drink. But I will!” Do you know this song? This is our Russian Celtic folklore. Not all holidays, however, should be celebrated like this. For example, I spend Halloween with my family only. It’s a holiday that is best marked in a family circle, because originally it was a day of remembering one’s deceased ancestors. Many celebrate Halloween in the same way as St. Patrick’s, and don’t understand its essence.

Andrei, 41, sales manager. Vika, 12, schoolgirl

This holiday has no religious meaning for me. I just like Irish culture. I even have a tattoo on my arm depicting the soloist from Thin Lizzy. I love their “Whiskey in the Jar” [a traditional Irish ballad - RBTH]. The Irish are very merry people, and we wanted to see how our guys are having fun on this Irish holiday. I know St. Patrick’s story; I read it. He is associated with the shamrock - the symbol of Ireland. As for why he is the symbol of Ireland, I’d better not try and be clever! I forgot!

'The Irish are very merry people.' / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze'The Irish are very merry people.' / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze

Oleg, 16, schoolboy 

This is my third year attending this parade, because there’s a green crowd here and they are dancing, and I love crowds. Previously, there was a soap bubbles parade held on the Arbat: people all dressed up came carrying soap bubble jars and water pistols. It has now been banned.

'I love crowds.' / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze'I love crowds.' / Photo: Zurab Javakhadze

Why? Just because. All that remains is St. Patrick’s Day. Didn’t he unite the Irish army or something? This is why I’m carrying an Irish flag. I also have a Cthulhu mask, but that’s because I am ugly and it’s green.

Read more: St. Patrick's Day in Russia: Why the Orthodox Church recognizes it

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