St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated every year on March 17th, which is thought to be the day that Saint Patrick died (5th century). People all over the world from many different backgrounds celebrate this holiday, but the Irish have observed it as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years!
Galway, Ireland (photo courtesy of Morgan Ball)
Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He was born in Britain, but he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave when he was 16. When he was able to escape slavery, he returned to his home in Britain and became a cleric. Later on, he came back to northwest Ireland as a Christian missionary and is credited with bringing Christianity to the country.
Although he wasn’t the first Christian to try to convert the people of Ireland, he was certainly one of the most successful. Saint Patrick converted many pagans (including a lot of the local Chieftains) to Christianity over the course of 30 years and worked diligently to establish places of worship. One of the Chieftains even gifted him a barn-turned-church!
After Patrick’s death (believed to be March 17th in the year 461), mythological stories about his life became a huge part of Irish culture. One of the most well-known legends is that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) by using the three leaves of an Irish clover… the shamrock!
Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland
St. Patty’s Day Celebrations
- People in Ireland have been observing the Roman Catholic feast day of Saint Patrick every year since around the 9th or 10th century. Saint Patrick’s Day has traditionally been a religious holiday. Until the 1970s, there were Irish laws in place that required pubs to be closed on March 17th. In 1995, the Irish government began a campaign to use the interest in Saint Patrick’s Day to increase tourism and promote Irish culture to the world.
Giant’s Causeway, Ireland (photo courtesy of Morgan Ball)
- The first Saint Patrick’s Day parade actually took place in America – not in Ireland. Records show that a Saint Patrick’s Day parade was held on March 17, 1601 in a colony that is now St. Augustine, Florida.
- On March 17, 1772, Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched in New York City to honor their country’s patron saint. Enthusiasm only grew from there, with St. Patrick’s Day parades becoming a tradition in other early American cities.
- Over the next few decades, the patriotism of Irish immigrants in America rose, which prompted the Irish Aid societies (Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick, Hibernian Society, etc). These groups would organize parades every year featuring bagpipes and drums. In 1848, several Irish Aid societies in New York decided to combine their parades to form one New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Now, it is the world’s oldest civilian parade and has around 150,000 participants. The parade route is 1.5 miles long and lasts more than 5 hours! Each year, approximately 3 million people attend.
Cliffs of Moher, Ireland (photo courtesy of Morgan Ball)
- As Irish immigrants spread across the United States, other cities developed their own traditions – such as the annual dyeing of the Chicago River green. In 1962, city pollution-control workers were using dyes to trace illegal sewage and thought that the green dye would be a unique & fun way to celebrate St. Patty’s Day! When they first started, they put 100 pounds of green vegetable dye into the river (which kept it green for a week). Today, with more awareness of environmental damage, they only use 40 pounds (which causes the river to turn green for just a few hours).
- Nowadays, people all over the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day! Many will enjoy recipes such as Irish soda bread, corned beef, cabbage, and champ. Some like to make food and drinks with green dye in them. A lot of people wear green – you don’t want to get pinched! This tradition stems from folklore that says wearing green makes you invisible to leprechauns (they like to pinch anyone they can see). Others just wear green in the hopes that it brings good luck or to honor their Irish heritage.
Irish Proverbs: You will find that many are wise and insightful, others make you chuckle, and some just don’t make any sense at all!
However you choose to celebrate, we hope you have a great St. Patrick’s Day!