Celebrated on the 17th of March, St. Patrick’s Day has been known as a day of Leprechauns, pots of gold, and everyone wearing green to show recognition for the Irish culture. There are parties and parades, but where did all the traditions come from? And what’s with those shamrocks anyway? The following is a brief history of the holiday and how it came to be the fun-filled day of festivities we know today.
Saint Patrick, who is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland, was born in Roman Britain, and has been honored as Ireland’s patron saint for well over a thousand years. The anniversary of his death (believed to have been on March 17, 461) became an important and recognized religious holiday in the ninth or tenth century and was celebrated through prayer, church services, and feasts. The festivities we are familiar with today didn’t come about until 1762 and didn’t even originate in Ireland!
The very first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in the New York City when the Irish soldiers serving in the English military decided to march so that they might reconnect with their Irish roots. They gathered together and played their traditional music, enjoying the company of their community, and rejoicing in their nation despite being so far from home. The tradition continued to grow as Irish immigrants used it to boost pride in their culture and became a sign of strength for disenfranchised Irish Americans. Slowly, as the Irish-American community began to grow and take shape, the parade turned into a highly attended event and celebration. Today, the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade boasts nearly 150,000 participants and an even larger audience.
Shamrocks are related to the historical aspect of the holiday. One of the most well-known legends about St. Patrick talks about how he explained the Holy Trinity of the Catholic religion using the three leaves of the popular Irish clover. Wearing green, however, is not related to St. Patrick, his life, or any of the original traditions. In fact, the color did not become associated with the holiday until the late 18th century when supporters of Irish independence wore the color to represent their cause.
Though the holiday may have started as a devoted religious celebration of patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day has become a fun holiday celebrated by people of all backgrounds. Though North America has been known to have the largest productions for the holiday, there are celebrations in many other parts of the world far from Ireland including Australia, Japan, Singapore, and Russia. To some it’s a religious day, to others a day of fun and of luck, but for all of us, it’s a day to celebrate Ireland and the culture that makes it great.
Have fun, be safe, and maybe impress your friends with some St. Patrick’s Day trivia this March 17th.