On March 17 each year, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by wearing green. We all know this holiday has Irish roots and many might know it originally began as a religious feast day for the patron saint of Ireland. Today, it’s become an international festival or holiday that celebrates the Irish culture. Many festivities around the globe include parades, dancing, special foods, and wearing a whole lot of green! But who was St. Patrick and how did this holiday originate?
St. Patrick’s Day is always on March 17 as this is the date St. Patrick, the most commonly recognized patron saint of Ireland, died. In the early seventeenth century, St. Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian day of feasting observed by the Catholic church as well as Eastern Orthodox and the Lutheran church. They observe this day to recognize the coming of the Christian faith to Ireland, as well as to celebrate the Irish culture.
Not a lot is officially known about St. Patrick himself. He’s believed to have written a document called the Declaration, which does give some insight into his life. Historians believe St. Patrick was born into a wealthy family in Roman Britain during the fourth century. Both his father and grandfather were actively involved in the Christian church. According to the Declaration, St. Patrick was kidnapped at sixteen years old by some Irish men to be a slave. He remained their slave for about six years, working as a shepherd. It’s believed that during this time he discovered and developed a relationship with God who told him to run away to the sea where a ship would be waiting to take him back to his home. St. Patrick did escape and found his way home, and eventually became a priest in the Catholic church.
Legend has it that St. Patrick eventually returned to Ireland in an attempt to convert the Irish there to Christianity. He became known as the Apostle of Ireland. While there, he used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the holy trinity to the Irish. This is why we commonly see the shamrock linked with St. Patrick’s Day.
Green is and has been associated with Ireland since the 1600s, when the green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation. Since then, green shamrocks, ribbons, and other clothing and symbolisms have been used and worn on St. Patrick’s Day.
St. Patrick’s Day was not traditionally celebrated with heavy drinking as it is today. In fact, it was always a dry celebration. Irish law between 1903 and 1970 made St. Patrick’s Day a religious holiday nationwide, meaning all pubs were closed for the day. It wasn’t until 1970 that this was overturned and eventually the holiday became associated with drinking.
In 1737 the first St. Patrick’s Day celebration was organized in America by the Charitable Irish Society of Boston, and the festivity included a large feast and religious service as was common in their homeland. They put it together in an effort to honor and celebrate the Irish culture many of the colonists had been separated from. The St. Patrick’s Day celebrations over the first few years were small, and eventually grew larger to include parades and participation by non-Irish, until it grew into what we recognize today.