Purim and St. Patrick's Day fall on same day: What are they about?

With vastly different histories and traditions, the thing that Purim and St. Patrick's Day have in common is feasting and drinking.

 People raise a toast with whiskey glasses. Purim and St. Patrick's Day have drinking in common. (photo credit: PIXABAY)
People raise a toast with whiskey glasses. Purim and St. Patrick's Day have drinking in common.
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

Purim and St. Patrick's Day land on the same day this year for the first time in almost 40 years. Despite the fact that they come from vastly different backgrounds, the one thing both holidays have in common is the tradition of revelry and booze. So what is the history behind each holiday and why are they both associated with drinking?

Purim

The context for celebrating Purim comes from Megillat Esther (The Scroll of Esther) which tells one of the stories of Jews being saved from those who sought to eliminate them.

Megillat Esther begins with King Ahashverosh who finds himself in need of a queen after his first wife is executed for disobeying him. All the young women in the kingdom are brought before him, and he chooses Esther, a Jewish orphan being raised by her cousin Mordechai, but the king does not know that he has married a Jew.

Esther's newfound position is an advantage when Ahasuerus's right-hand man Haman decides to kill all the Jews in the kingdom because he hates them so much and convinces the king to sign a decree to allow it. Mordechai encourages Esther to advocate for her people, and she eventually reveals her religion to the king, who is enraged by the fact that Haman wanted to kill his queen and her people.

Shushan Purim celebrations amid ongoing coronavirus outbreak in Jerusalem, Feb. 28, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Shushan Purim celebrations amid ongoing coronavirus outbreak in Jerusalem, Feb. 28, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Haman is then hanged for his crimes and a new decree is sent out to all the Jews to fight back and defend themselves.

Purim is a day to celebrate the overturning of events and their fates. The holiday is characterized by opposites - hence the tradition of dressing up - and is all about celebration and joy, and as such, it is a mitzvah (commandment) to drink. Every year, Jews gather for feasts on Purim and remember one of the many times they were saved from their aggressors.

St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day is the day of celebration for Ireland's patron saint Patrick who was born in the late fourth century in Roman Britain.

At the age of 16, Patrick was kidnapped and taken to Ireland to become a slave. He managed to escape, but he later returned to Ireland in order to convert the people to Christianity after receiving a revelation telling him to do so. He died on March 17, 461 after establishing many monasteries, churches and schools.

Patrick's sainthood led to a number of legends rising about him. These include ridding Ireland of snakes and him using a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the people he converted.

St. Patrick's Day started out as a religious holiday on the anniversaries of his death in which the Irish would mark the day with religious services and feasts. However, when Irish immigrants arrived in the US, the holiday was transformed and secularised. Today, the holiday is used to celebrate everything Irish, which of course, also includes Irish whiskey and beer.

So now you know the context. Whichever holiday you will be celebrating on Wednesday, raise a glass, eat well and have fun!