St Patrick Day History Facts
Every year on March 17, the Irish and the Irish-at-heart across the globe observe St. Patrick’s Day. What began as a religious feast day for the patron saint of Ireland has become an international festival celebrating Irish culture with parades, dancing, special foods and a whole lot of green.
These days, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations don’t have much to do with the man for which the holiday is named. Nonetheless, he is an important figure in Irish Catholic history. Ironically, St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish. He was born in Britain around A.D. 390 to an aristocratic Christian family, according to National Geographic. According to folklore, St. Patrick was kidnapped and brought to Ireland at 16, but he escaped and was reunited with his family in Britain at the encouragement of a voice he heard in his dreams, which later told him to go to Ireland. St. Patrick became a priest and then spent the rest of his life converting the Irish to Christianity
One common myth about St. Patrick is that he drove all of the snakes out of Ireland. As much as that sounds like a Ridley Scott movie, this is unfortunately just a myth. Sure, there are no snakes in Ireland today, but there actually never were, according to National Geographic. The frigid waters that surround Ireland made it too cold for snakes to arrive there from Britain. When literature mentions St. Patrick getting rid of all of the snakes in Ireland, it is probably just a metaphor for ridding the country of its “old, evil, pagan ways,” according to National Geographic
We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 every year, but why is that? No, it’s not just to have a holiday in March, which is usually a dull month in terms of major celebrations. The date commemorates the day St. Patrick died, believed to be in A.D. 461. Upon his death, St. Patrick was mostly forgotten, according to National Geographic. However, a mythology grew around the religious figure, and by the 9th or 10th century, people in Ireland began observing St. Patrick’s Day as a feast day.
So as you can see, St. Patrick’s Day was a pretty tame holiday in the beginning. In fact, it was a minor religious holiday in Ireland until the 1970s, National Geographic reports. Pubs even closed on March 17 in Ireland every year until the 1970s. We can trace some of the modern revelry associated with St. Patrick’s Day to the fact that prohibitions on eating meat, drinking and dancing during Lent were lifted for the day.
However, America is responsible for turning St. Patrick’s Day into the big party we know and love today, which is totally not surprising. There’s some debate over when the first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place, but early celebrations happened in Boston in 1737 and New York in 1762. St. Patrick’s Day celebrations continued to grow as more and more Irish immigrants came to the U.S., especially after the Irish Potato Famine hit in 1845. Today, there are celebrations in many small towns, big cities and bars across the country. New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest parade in the U.S., according to History.com. Chicago is also famous for dyeing the Chicago River green every year for its St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
At any St. Patrick’s Day event you attend these days, you will just see a sea of green. There isn’t really one reason why this is the official color of St. Patrick’s Day, but the color green has a lot of connections to Ireland and springtime. It’s featured in the Irish flag, Ireland is nicknamed the “Emerald Isle,” it represents spring and it’s the color of shamrocks, The Christian Science Monitor points out. And remember, if you don’t wear green, you risk being pinched. That wholly American tradition comes from the idea that people thought wearing green helped ward off being pinched by leprechauns (seriously), according to The Christian Science Monitor. Leprechauns would pinch anyone they could see, i.e. anyone not wearing green.
According to legend, St. Patrick used shamrocks, those three-leaf clovers, to explain the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit while trying to convert people to Christianity, according to National Geographic. However, people didn’t really start wearing shamrocks until as early as the 17th century. Most shamrocks that people used today are of the Trifolium dubium variety, in case you were wondering. Feel like a tasty Shamrock Shake right about now?
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