Thursday, March 11, 2010

History of St. Patrick's Day

The following is an article I (Yvonne Perry) wrote for the March issue of Jan Darpan Magazine.

Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17 across the world by both Irish and non-Irish people. Parades and lively music, beer drinking, wearing green, eating corned beef and cabbage, displaying shamrocks, and chasing leprechauns are part of the tradition.

St. Patrick's Day, also known as St. Paddy’s Day, is a national holiday and annual event that celebrates the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick. While it is not an official holiday in Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, Argentina, and New Zealand, it is widely celebrated in these countries.

According to, the origin of St. Patrick’s Day dates back to 5th century Britain when a 16-year-old boy named Maewyn Succat was kidnapped by a band of Irish pirates and sent to work as a shepherd slave for six years. He had a vision that directed him to escape slavery and return to Britain where he became a priest and changed his name to Patrick. He returned to Ireland in 432 A.D. with a mission to convert Irish Pagans to Christianity. There, he built schools and monasteries along the north and west coasts and was quite successful at winning converts by influencing the people in power. This upset the Celtic Druids. Patrick was arrested several times, but like a tricky leprechaun, he always escaped.

The leprechaun is an Irish fairy. According to legend, he resembles a small, old man dressed as a shoemaker with a cocked hat and leather apron. He is said to possess a hidden pot of gold and if caught, he can be forced to reveal the whereabouts of his treasure. But the leprechaun often tricks his captors and then vanishes along with all hopes of finding his treasure.

When Patrick died on March 17, 461 A.D., Irish Christians marked it as a holy day. The congregation refrained from working in order to attend church and celebrate the feast of St. Patrick. The feast day usually falls during the season of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and repentance in preparation for Easter. Catholics typically abstain from their immoral habits during these six weeks, but St. Patrick’s day allows a one-day reprieve in which folks may drink ale. This became a popular way to celebrate on March 17 and the tradition continues today.

In 1840, there was a potato famine in Ireland. Millions of Irish families fled to Canada, Australia, and America. They brought their old customs with them and made a few new ones—one of which was the wearing of green on St. Patrick’s Day. A traditional meal in Ireland was boiled bacon and potatoes. In the U.S., the Irish used a cheap piece of meat, tenderized it with brine, and cooked it with cabbage—thus corned beef and cabbage became the meal commonly used to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in America.

The original color associated with St. Patrick was blue. Somewhere along the way, the holiday became associated with the wearing of the green, which is to celebrate the coming of spring and remind the Irish people of the green, lush hillsides of their homeland, the Emerald Isle.
It is said wearing green also brings good luck, especially on St. Paddy’s Day. In the U.S., there is a tradition of pinching people who forget to wear green on March 17.

In 1737, the first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in America occurred in Boston with a parade organized by the Charitable Irish Society. New York City’s annual parade down Fifth Avenue is now the largest and most famous St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Three is Ireland's magic number. The shamrock (three-leaved clover) originally represented the maiden, mother, and crone stages of the female deity in the Celtic tradition. It is believed that Patrick used the three-leaved clover to teach the concept of the trinity or three-in-one male deity (God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to his Irish converts. Early 20th century greeting cards included a shamrock as a way of sending good luck to the recipient.

No matter where you live, the coming of spring is an event to be celebrated, and St. Patrick’s Day is a good reason to get together with friends and enjoy life. But, remember to wear green!

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L. Diane Wolfe said...

We were in England one year during St. Patrick's Day, and it was wild. By mid-afternoon, everyone was off work and drinking. And the river was green. They really go all out!

John said...

We lovvvvve St. Patrick's Day! Check out this Irish themed calendar we made to celebrate the season!

Donna B. Russell said...

Although my family wasn't Irish, we always celebrated St. Patrick's Day by wearing something green, and having corned beef and cabbage for supper. After a long winter, seeing all that green was a welcome reminder that spring was on its way.

Thank you for hosting another blog chain, Yvonne.