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St. Patrick’s Day: Origins, Meaning and Celebrations

St. Patrick’s Day: Origins, Meaning and Celebrations

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St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated annually on March 17, the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. On St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast–on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.

Who Was St. Patrick?

Saint Patrick, who lived during the fifth century, is the patron saint of Ireland and its national apostle. Born in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16. He later escaped, but returned to Ireland and was credited with bringing Christianity to its people.

In the centuries following Patrick’s death (believed to have been on March 17, 461), the mythology surrounding his life became ever more ingrained in the Irish culture: Perhaps the most well-known legend of St. Patrick is that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock.

WATCH: Saint Patrick: The Man, The Myth on HISTORY Vault

When Was the First St. Patrick’s Day Celebrated?

Since around the ninth or 10th century, people in Ireland have been observing the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick on March 17. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place not in Ireland but in America. Records show that a St. Patrick’s Day parade was held on March 17, 1601 in a Spanish colony in what is now St. Augustine, Florida. The parade, and a St. Patrick’s Day celebration a year earlier were organized by the Spanish Colony's Irish vicar Ricardo Artur.

More than a century later, homesick Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched in New York City on March 17, 1772 to honor the Irish patron saint. Enthusiasm for the St. Patrick's Day parades in New York City, Boston and other early American cities only grew from there.

READ MORE: How St. Patrick's Day Was Made in America

Growth of St. Patrick's Day Celebrations

Over the next 35 years, Irish patriotism among American immigrants flourished, prompting the rise of so-called “Irish Aid” societies like the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and the Hibernian Society. Each group would hold annual parades featuring bagpipes (which actually first became popular in the Scottish and British armies) and drums.

In 1848, several New York Irish Aid societies decided to unite their parades to form one official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Today, that parade is the world ‘s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States, with over 150,000 participants. Each year, nearly 3 million people line the 1.5-mile parade route to watch the procession, which takes more than five hours. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Savannah also celebrate the day with parades involving between 10,000 and 20,000 participants each. In 2020, the New York City parade was one of the first major city events to be cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; it was again cancelled in 2021.

The Irish in America

Up until the mid-19th century, most Irish immigrants in America were members of the Protestant middle class. When the Great Potato Famine hit Ireland in 1845, close to 1 million poor and uneducated Irish Catholics began pouring into America to escape starvation.

Despised for their alien religious beliefs and unfamiliar accents by the American Protestant majority, the immigrants had trouble finding even menial jobs. When Irish Americans in the country’s cities took to the streets on St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate their heritage, newspapers portrayed them in cartoons as drunk, violent monkeys.

READ MORE: When America Despised the Irish

The American Irish soon began to realize, however, that their large and growing numbers endowed them with a political power that had yet to be exploited. They started to organize, and their voting bloc, known as the “green machine,” became an important swing vote for political hopefuls. Suddenly, annual St. Patrick’s Day parades became a show of strength for Irish Americans, as well as a must-attend event for a slew of political candidates.

In 1948, President Harry S. Truman attended New York City‘s St. Patrick’s Day parade, a proud moment for the many Irish Americans whose ancestors had to fight stereotypes and racial prejudice to find acceptance in the New World.

The Chicago River Dyed Green

As Irish immigrants spread out over the United States, other cities developed their own traditions. One of these is Chicago’s annual dyeing of the Chicago River green. The practice started in 1962, when city pollution-control workers used dyes to trace illegal sewage discharges and realized that the green dye might provide a unique way to celebrate the holiday. That year, they released 100 pounds of green vegetable dye into the river–enough to keep it green for a week. Today, in order to minimize environmental damage, only 40 pounds of dye are used, and the river turns green for only several hours.

Although Chicago historians claim their city’s idea for a river of green was original, some natives of Savannah, Georgia (whose St. Patrick’s Day parade, the oldest in the nation, dates back to 1813) believe the idea originated in their town. They point out that, in 1961, a hotel restaurant manager named Tom Woolley convinced city officials to dye Savannah’s river green. The experiment didn’t exactly work as planned, and the water only took on a slight greenish hue. Savannah never attempted to dye its river again, but Woolley maintains (though others refute the claim) that he personally suggested the idea to Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley.

READ MORE: St. Patrick's Day Traditions

St. Patrick's Day Celebrations Around the World

Today, people of all backgrounds celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, especially throughout the United States, Canada and Australia. Although North America is home to the largest productions, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world in locations far from Ireland, including Japan, Singapore and Russia. Popular St. Patrick’s Day recipes include Irish soda bread, corned beef and cabbage and champ. In the United States, people often wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.

In modern-day Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day has traditionally been a religious occasion. In fact, up until the 1970s, Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on March 17. Beginning in 1995, however, the Irish government began a national campaign to use interest in St. Patrick’s Day to drive tourism and showcase Ireland and Irish culture to the rest of the world.

What Do Leprechauns Have to Do With St. Patrick's Day?

One icon of the Irish holiday is the Leprechaun. The original Irish name for these figures of folklore is “lobaircin,” meaning “small-bodied fellow.” Belief in leprechauns probably stems from Celtic belief in fairies, tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. In Celtic folktales, leprechauns were cranky souls, responsible for mending the shoes of the other fairies.

Though only minor figures in Celtic folklore, leprechauns were known for their trickery, which they often used to protect their much-fabled treasure. Leprechauns have their own holiday on May 13, but are also celebrated on St. Patrick's, with many dressing up as the wily fairies.

WATCH: Are Leprechauns Real?

St.Patrick's Day History

St. Patrick's Day History and Traditons

St Patrick is known as the patron saint of Ireland. True, he was not a born Irish. But he has become an integral part of the Irish heritage, mostly through his service across Ireland of the 5th century.

Patrick was born in the later half of the 4th century AD. There are differing views about the exact year and place of his birth. According to one school of opinion, he was born about 390 A.D., while the other school says it is about 373 AD. Again, his birth place is said to be in either Scotland or Roman England. His real name was probably Maewyn Succat. Though Patricius was his Romanicized name, he was later came to be familiar as Patrick.

Patrick was the son of Calpurnius, a Roman-British army officer. He was growing up as naturally as other kids in Britain. However, one day a band of pirates landed in south Wales and kidnapped this boy along with many others. Then they sold him into slavery in Ireland. He was there for 6 years, mostly imprisoned. This was when changes came to him. He dreamed of having seen God. Legend says, he was then dictated by God to escape with a getaway ship.

Finally, he did escape and went to Britain. And then to France. There he joined a monastery and studied under St. Germain, the bishop of Auxerre. He spent around 12 years in training. And when he became a bishop he dreamed that the Irish were calling him back to Ireland to tell them about God. The Confessio, Patrick's spiritual autobiography, is the most important document regarding this. It tells of a dream after his return to Britain, in which one Victoricus delivered him a letter headed "The Voice of the Irish."

So he set out for Ireland with the Pope's blessings. There he converted the Gaelic Irish, who were then mostly Pagans, to Christianity. He was confident in the Lord, he journeyed far and wide, baptizing and confirming with untiring zeal. And, in a diplomatic fashion he brought gifts to a kinglet here and a lawgiver there,but accepted none from any.

Indeed, Patrick was quite successful at winning converts. Through active preaching, he made important converts even among the royal families. And this fact upset the Celtic Druids. Patrick was arrested several times,but escaped each time. For 20 years he had traveled throughout Ireland, establishing monasteries across the country. He also set up schools and churches which would aid him in his conversion. He developed a native clergy, fostered the growth of monasticism, established dioceses, and held church councils.

Patrick's doctrine is considered orthodox and has been interpreted as anti-Pelagian. Although he is not particularly noted as a man of learning, a few of his writings remain extant: his Confession, a reply to his detractors, and several letters. The Lorica ("Breastplate"), a famous hymn attributed to Patrick, may date to a later period. By the end of the 7th century Patrick had become a legendary figure, and the legends have continued to grow since then. There are many legends associated with St Patrick. It is said that he used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the concept of the Trinity which refers to the combination of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Hence its strong association with his day and name Legend also has that, Saint Patrick had put the curse of God on venomous snakes in Ireland. And he drove all the snakes into the sea where they drowned.
True, these are mostly legends. But, after some 1500 years, these legends have been inseparably combined with the facts. And together they have helped us know much about the Saint and the spirit behind celebration of the day. Patrick's mission in Ireland lasted for over 20 years. He died on March 17, AD 461. That day has been commemorated as St. Patrick's Day ever since. The day's spirit is to celebrate the universal baptization of Ireland. Though originally a Catholic holy day, St. Patrick's Day has evolved into more of a secular holiday. Or, rather, 'be an Irish Day '. And the Irish has borne it as part of their national tradition in everywhere they populated and prospered. The Catholic feast day for this most loved of Irish saints has become a holiday in celebration of the Irish and Irish culture. The leprechaun, a Celtic fairy, has become entrenched as a chief symbol for this holiday, as is the shamrock, an ancient symbol for the triple goddess Brigit. It is fitting that this holiday should fall at the time of the year when the return of spring begins to seem at hand. But why the icons like the green color, the tri-leafed shamrock, the leprechaun, or the pot of gold and Blarney's stone- all came to be associated with the celebration of this Day? And what do they all mean? Click Here to learn

Origin of St. Patrick’s Day

It is said that by converting the Irish to Christianity, he drove the snakes from the island. One of the important symbols of Saint Patrick’s Day is the three leaf clover and the Shamrock. He used the Shamrock to help people that they understand God easily. Patrick died on March 17th 461 after spending many years helping people and sharing his beliefs all over Ireland. He died in the same place he had built his first church today. St. Patrick’s Day is as much a celebration of Irish culture as a celebration of Patrick himself. People of Irish heritage all over the world wear green clothes and shamrocks on March 17th. Many people also eat a traditional Irish meal of corned beef, cabbage potatoes, and soda bread. In Ireland, most people go to church in the morning in the United States.

There are many people with Irish heritage their ancestors move to the US during the Irish potato famine so there are many special celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day in the United States. Each year during St. Patty’s Day the city of Chicago even dies the Chicago River green, the fountain on the lawn of the White House gets dyed green, too many cities in the United States also have parades. Did you know that the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade ever took place in New York City in 1762. Other symbols of Irish culture have also become associated with St. Patty’s Day like the leprechaun. The Leprechaun is a magical person from Irish folktales. It is said that if you can catch a leprechaun he has to give you his pot of gold. Happy St. Patrick’s Day and I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about this fun and exciting holiday.

St. Patrick’s Day history, traditions: The meaning behind symbols

Riley Wood, a senior business major, celebrates St. Patrick's Day with traditional fare such as corned beef and cabbage and a pint of Guinness. Photo credit: Jason Spies

St. Patrick’s Day: a day filled with shamrocks, leprechauns, people dressed up in green and pinches for those who aren’t.

These facets of St. Patrick’s Day each have their own specific meanings, which may have been lost over the years.

“We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate and honor St. Patrick,” said Riley Wood, a senior business major. “As a kid, I always thought St. Patrick’s Day was a day that we try and catch leprechauns because that’s what we did in school.”

The day was traditionally a religious holiday in which Ireland celebrated the life of St. Patrick, who on died on March 17 in the year 461. He was brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16 but later managed to escape. He is now the country’s patron saint who ministered Christianity throughout Ireland during the fifth century.

St. Patrick is remembered through all of the symbols that are used on St. Patrick’s Day, each one having its own special meaning.

Melissa Fulk, a senior nutrition and food science major, thinks that the reason the color green is associated with St. Patrick’s Day is because Ireland is known for its greenery.

“Whenever I think of the color green, I automatically think of St. Patrick’s Day and of Ireland,” Fulk said.

However, according to the Christian Science Monitor, blue was the color that was first associated with St. Patrick’s Day, but it was changed to green in the 17th century. Green is one of the colors in Ireland’s three-color flag. Ireland is also nicknamed the “Emerald Isle” because of its lush green landscape.

Pinching people for not wearing green is an American tradition that started sometime in the 1700s. In American tradition, leprechauns pinch people, so many thought that wearing green made them invisible to leprechauns.

Kassandra Bednarski, a sophomore international relations major, proves that not all people believe in the American tradition.

“I think they pinch people who aren’t wearing green because they aren’t respecting the holiday,” she said.

In Irish folklore, leprechauns are male fairies that are said to be shoemakers who hide their gold away at the end of rainbows. Leprechauns used to wear red, but in the 20th century, green was associated with the Irish culture and the color changed.

Kelly Carey, a senior graphic design major, is one-fourth Irish but doesn’t really know why leprechauns are associated with St. Patrick’s Day.

“They wear green and are said to be good luck,” Carey said. “I think they have a pot of gold or something.”

While St. Patrick’s Day has many different symbols and interpretations, it all started with one man and his efforts to bring Christianity to Ireland. Taking the time to remember the true meaning of a holiday can help to ensure that its legacy lives on. People celebrate in their own ways and have their own traditions, which makes the holiday special.

“I like corned beef and cabbage, wearing a lot of green and a pint of Guinness,” Wood said. “That’s my St. Paddy’s Day.”

Jason Spies can be reached at [email protected] or @Jason_Spies on Twitter.

5 St. Patrick’s Day Symbols and Sayings and their Meanings

Some unique symbols and sayings are associated with St. Patrick’s Day, but do you know where they come from?

1. Why do We Wear Green on St Patrick’s Day?

Did you know that the color associated with St. Patrick was actually blue, not green? So why do we all show up wearing green on March 17?

Owing to its lush rolling green hills, Ireland is nicknamed, The Emerald Isle. This is one reason why green is associated with St. Patrick’s Day, making it more of a cultural statement than anything else. Another factor is the Irish flag, which has a green stripe that represents the country’s Catholic population

Nowadays, green is so much associated with St. Patrick’s Day that you risk the chance of being pinched by fellow revelers if you don’t wear at least one green article of clothing!

And what’s more, many places dye their rivers, fountains, and other bodies of water green. People will even drink green beer. Delicious!

2. History of the Shamrock

The shamrock, a three-leaf clover, is the quintessential symbol of St. Patrick’s Day, but do you know why that is? Legends say that St. Patrick used the three leaves on the shamrock to symbolize the Holy Trinity in Christianity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

If you happen to stumble across a shamrock with an extra leaf, or a four-leaf clover, consider yourself EXTRA lucky. These lucky charms are said to be incredibly difficult to find.

3. Leprechauns

Leprechauns are mischievous, little creatures found in Irish folklore. Traditionally, they were said to be shoemakers and actually wore red, not green.

In fact, some researchers believe the word “leprechaun” came from the Irish word ‘leath bhrogan,’ which means shoemaker. It is said that if a person could capture a leprechaun, the creature would grant them three wishes.

Time to go leprechaun hunting!

4. “Kiss me, I’m Irish”

One of the most used St. Patrick’s Day phrases is “Kiss me, I’m Irish!”

This famous phrase is a reference to the Blarney Stone, embedded in the parapet of the Blarney Castle in Cork, Ireland. According to legend, kissing the Blarney Stone will bring you good luck and bless you with the skill of smooth-talking flattery. If you can’t get to Ireland, however, the next best thing is to kiss an Irish person who has kissed the stone.

5. “Luck of the Irish”

Another well-known saying – “Luck of the Irish” – is thought to be a tribute, maintaining that the Irish people and Irish-named teams like the Boston Celtics and Notre Dame Fighting Irish have naturally good fortune. However, the history of the term is actually darker than that.

According to Edward T. O’Donnell, author of � Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History,” the term is not Irish in origin.

“During the gold and silver rush years in the second half of the 19th century, a number of the most famous and successful miners were of Irish and Irish American birth….Over time this association of the Irish with mining fortunes led to the expression ‘luck of the Irish.’ Of course, it carried with it a certain tone of derision, as if to say, only by sheer luck, as opposed to brains, could these fools succeed.”


The fact that Ireland is an island—as well as green with leafy trees and grassy hills—means that the nation is sometimes called the Emerald Isle. But the color that people originally associated with St. Patrick was blue! (Some ancient Irish flags even sport this color.) Green was finally introduced to St. Patrick’s Day festivities in the 18th century, when the shamrock (which is, of course, green) became a national symbol. Because of the shamrock’s popularity and Ireland’s landscape, the color stuck to the holiday.

Green is also the color that mythical fairies called leprechauns like to dress in—today, at least. But tales about leprechauns date back to before green was in: The fairies were first described as wearing red.

What's the history behind St. Patrick's Day?

You're probably not surprised to learn that St. Patrick's Day hasn't always been a raucous affair, celebrated with huge parades and green beer. As the feast day of Saint Patrick, it was and still is a holy day in Christianity. The day was first established in 1631 as a modest religious holiday, and honoring Ireland's patron saint. Because it fell right in the middle of Lent, people began using it as a reason to celebrate and take a break from the restraints and abstinence of the period leading up to Easter. However, it didn't actually become a public holiday in Ireland until 1904!

The St. Patrick's Day celebrations we recognize today are actually a product of Irish immigrants in America. Parades sprung up in major U.S. cities in the 1700s, including Boston and New York City. As Irish populations grew in America, so did St. Patrick's Day festivities. During the 1900s, Americans on March 17 were wearing green clothes, eating corned beef and cabbage (despite it not being a popular dish in Ireland!), and attending massive parades across the country.

Who Was St. Patrick?

Dates and details in Patrick's life are not known with certainty. He was most likely born between 372 and 390, possibly near present day Glasgow, Scotland. His parents, Calpurniun and Conchessa, were leaders of the Christian community in the still unidentified village of Bannavem Taburniae. Patrick did not take the Christianity of his parents seriously and enjoyed having fun with his friends. One day, when he was sixteen, he was amusing himself near the sea when Irish pirates captured him. They sold Patrick as a slave to an Irish chieftain named Milchu. His job? To care for the chief's sheep.

Alone in the fields with the sheep, Patrick remembered the Christianity of his parents, and he accepted it as his own. He later wrote,

Six years later, Patrick managed to escape and returned to his family. In a dream, he saw Irish children pleading with him to bring the Gospel to them. "O holy youth, come back to Erin, and walk once more amongst us." His heart longed to return to his former captors and share with them the gospel of Jesus Christ. He trained for the ministry and returned to Ireland where, despite fierce opposition, he spread the story of Jesus among the pagan tribes in the Irish language he had learned while a slave.

During his 29 years as a missionary, St. Patrick baptized over 120,000 Irishmen, and established over 300 churches. His glorification of God even gave rise to the legend that he drove the snakes out of Ireland. Many versions of the tale exist, including his standing atop a cliff using a wooden staff to drive the snakes into the sea. But St. Patrick's ministry was nonetheless effective as he transformed a nation of idol worshippers by baptizing the masses and their leaders in the name of God.

St. Patrick died on March 17th, 461 in Ireland. It's been recorded that his favorite color was actually blue, he wore it all the time, yet green became the choice for the celebration of St. Patrick's Day since it's now the official color of Ireland.

What is the real meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day?

St. Patrick’s Day is associated with many things, all of which have different meanings for different people: wearing green, breaking Lent, making an attempt to try out your cúpla focal, going to a parade and, of course, drowning the shamrock. Yet what is the real meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day and what is its true importance for Ireland today?

What is the true Irish meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day?

March 17 marks the fifth-century death of our beloved patron saint, Saint Patrick and for over a thousand years, has been celebrated as a religious feast day.

According to history, St. Patrick was a missionary to Ireland and he became an adored figure for Irish Catholics as the person to bring Christianity to the Emerald Isle.

Read more

In times gone by, canonizations were carried out on a regional level, meaning that Patrick has never officially been canonized by a Pope although he is included on the list of Saints. The feast day was only officially placed on the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar in the early 1600s with thanks to Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding.

From then on it has been a holy day of obligation for Catholics (they are obliged to participate in the Mass). Until the 1700s, St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated predominantly in Ireland where it was a somber religious occasion spent mainly in prayer.

St. Patrick’s Day didn’t become an official Irish public holiday until 1903 with the introduction of the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903. This act was introduced by Irish Member of Parliament James O’Mara, who was also responsible for the law that required the closing of pubs on March 17.

The typical Irish family celebration before the 70s and before the uplift of the ban on drinking was very different from the party atmosphere associated with the day now. As St. Patrick’s Day generally falls within the Christian season of Lent, Mass was attended in the morning with the afternoon set aside for celebrations. The Lenten prohibition against meat was lifted for the day and families sang and danced and celebrated during a time that is normally more somber on the Christian calendar.

In fact, before the drinking ban was repealed, there was only one place in Ireland where one could buy a tipple on March 17: The Royal Dublin Dog Show.

When did the meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day change?

The evolution of St. Patrick’s Day into the ruckus it’s now associated with may, in fact, have been solely an Irish-American construct. Despite the fact that the feast day has been observed in Ireland since the 9th or 10th century, it was in New York City that the first parade took place when in 1762 Irish soldiers serving with the English military marched through Manhattan to a local tavern.

Read more

Patriotism amongst Irish immigrants in America continued to grow with the New York Irish Aid societies holding the first official parade in 1848 - the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States. The first parade in the Irish Free State did not take place until 1931.

The promotion of Paddy’s Day in Ireland truly began in 1995 when the Irish Government realized the potential tourism benefits of celebrating the day and the opportunities for the country to sell its culture and sights to the rest of the world.

This resulted in the creation of the St. Patrick’s Day Festival and has amassed to the multi-day celebration that we now have in Dublin in which approximately one million people take part annually.

Is the meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day to promote Irish culture?

Some people love/hate Saint Patrick’s Day as the biggest day of the year on which we get to sell our little island to the world’s big hitters and convince them to continue doing business with us and visiting our shores.

While this is a recent phenomenon - the now traditional shamrock ceremony in the White House only being started in 1952 by Ireland’s ambassador to the United States, John Hearne - there were other times in history in which St Patrick's Day was used as a day on which Irish culture could be placed to the forefront.

From the 18th century onward, as a result of the Penal Laws in Ireland, some Irish people began to use St. Patrick’s Day as a means of promoting Irish culture and tradition. So as to show their Irish Christian pride, the tradition of wearing of shamrocks began but the day still revolved around the Catholic religion.

How close to the origins and history of Saint Patrick’s Day are we now?

There are still certain religious links evident in our adoration of St. Patrick. Each year, 5.5 million people visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and there are over 450 churches around the States named after Ireland’s patron saint. Almost 650,000 babies in the States have also been named Patrick in the past 100 years.

There have been calls by some to bring back the old pre-70s traditions and to return to the religious feast day. In 2007, theologian Fr. Vincent Twomey argued for this return to religion in an article for The Word magazine. Fr. Twomey claimed that the day needed to be reclaimed as a Church festival and taken back from the secular and vulgar festival that it had become.

Read more

Within the Church itself, there are certain traditions that are still retained although they may go unnoticed by the larger corporate events. As St. Patrick’s Day sometimes falls during Holy Week, and the church avoids holding feast days during certain solemnities such as Lent, there have been times when the feast day has moved to a different day. This happened as early back as 2008 when St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated by the Church on March 14 although the separate secular events continued on the national holiday. This will not happen again until 2160.

* Originally published in 2018, updated in February 2021.

What do you think is the true meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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St. Patrick's Day is an Irish holiday celebrated all around the world to honor the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick.

When Is St. Patrick's Day?
St. Patrick's Day is celebrated each year on March 17th. This day marks the accepted date of Saint Patrick's death in 460 AD.

Who Was Saint Patrick?
The person who was to become Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Wales around 390 AD. His given name was Maewyn.

At the age of sixteen Saint Patrick was kidnapped from his native land of the Roman British Isles by a band pirates, and sold into slavery in Ireland. Saint Patrick worked as a shepherd and turned to religion for comfort. During his captivity he became a Christian and adopted the name Patrick. After six years of slavery he escaped to the Irish coast and fled home to Britain.

While back in his homeland, Patrick decided to become a priest. Patrick wanted to return to Ireland after dreaming that the voices of the Irish people were calling him to convert them to Christianity.

After studying and preparing for several years, Patrick traveled back to Ireland as a Christian missionary. Although there were already some Christians living in Ireland, Saint Patrick was able to bring upon a massive religious shift to Christianity by converting people of power.

One traditional icon of the day is the shamrock. One Irish tale tells how Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Trinity. He used it in his sermons to represent how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity. His followers adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock on his feast day. Eventually this tradition led to the wearing of green.

There is much Irish folklore that surrounds St. Patrick's Day. Not much of it is actually substantiated. Some of this lore includes the belief that Patrick raised people from the dead. He also is said to have given a sermon from a hilltop that drove all the snakes from Ireland. Of course, no snakes were ever native to Ireland, and some people think this is a metaphor for the conversion of the pagans. Though originally a Catholic holy day, St. Patrick's Day has evolved into more of a secular holiday.

The True History Behind St. Patrick's Day

M odern St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, at least in the United States, are likely be to characterized by commercial lucky charms and green beer&mdashall of which has very little to do with the historical figure of the saint. As it turns out, it took centuries for the holiday to accrue the elements that now seem crucial to its celebrations.

The March 17 celebration started in 1631 when the Church established a Feast Day honoring St. Patrick. He had been Patron Saint of Ireland who had died around the fifth century&mdasha whopping 12 centuries before the modern version of the holiday was first observed. But very little is known about who he actually was, according to Marion Casey, a clinical assistant professor of Irish Studies at New York University (and a regular marcher in the St. Patrick&rsquos Day Parade in Manhattan).

&ldquoWe know that he was a Roman citizen, because Britain was Roman then, and then he was enslaved and taken to Ireland, where he either escaped or was released,&rdquo Casey says. &ldquoAnd then he became a priest and went back to Ireland, where he had a lot of luck converting the Druid culture into Christians.&rdquo

Legend says St. Patrick was actually born Maewyn Succat, but that he changed his name to Patricius (or Patrick), which derives from the Latin term for “father figure,” after he became a priest. And that supposed luck of his is the root of all the themed merchandise for modern St. Patrick&rsquos Day.

It wasn&rsquot until the early 18th century that many of today&rsquos traditions were kicked into high gear. Since the holiday falls during Lent, it provides Christians a day off from the prescriptions of abstinence leading up to Easter, and around the 1720s, the church found it &ldquogot kind of out of control,&rdquo Casey says. It was to remind celebrants what the holiday actually stood for that the church first associated a botanical item&mdashcustomary for all saints&mdashwith St. Patrick, assigning him the symbol of the likewise lucky shamrock.

Modern-day celebrations and themes continued to take shape during the rest of the 1700s. In 1762, the first New York City parade took place. It wasn&rsquot until 1798, the year of the Irish Rebellion, that the color green became officially associated with the day, Casey says. Up until the rebellion, the color associated with St. Patrick was blue, as it was featured both in the royal court and on ancient Irish flags. But as the British wore red, the Irish chose to wear green, and they sang the song &ldquoThe Wearing of the Green&rdquo during the rebellion, cementing the color&rsquos relevance in Irish history.

As for the green beer, that’s an even later addition. In fact, it wasn’t until the late 20th century that Ireland repealed a law that initially kept everything&mdashpubs included&mdashshut down for the day. Since then, thanks to a marketing push from Budweiser in the 1980s, downing beer has become a common way to celebrate, regardless of how closely it&rsquos tied to the actually meaning of St. Patrick himself.


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