St. Patrick’s Day: A History of the Irish Holiday

St. Patrick's Day

Each year on March 17, people across the globe celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. This holiday began as a Catholic feast day for St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. However, it has now taken on secular connotations as a global celebration of Irish culture and folklore which somewhat overshadow the religious aspects of the holiday.

Who Was St. Patrick?

St. Patrick Window

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. It is a popular legend that he banished all snakes from Ireland. This legend sprang from the fact that there are no snakes in Ireland, and is not considered to have any basis in historical fact. In fact, Patrick was a Roman Catholic missionary and bishop who evangelized to the pagan peoples of Ireland.

Patrick was born in Britain in the fifth century CE, when the country was under the rule of the Roman Empire. He was kidnapped by Irish pirates when he was 16 years old and taken to Ireland where he was held captive as a slave for six years. When he finally escaped and returned to Britain, he began to study Christianity seriously and was ordained as a missionary.

Patrick claims to have had a vision telling him to return to Ireland, and that is what he did. He stayed in Ireland for the rest of his life, preaching, evangelizing, and ministering to the Irish people. Some accounts claim that he started over 300 churches and baptized over 100,000 people in Ireland during his life. March 17 is believed to be the date of his death, which is why his feast falls on that day.

Not much more is known of the historical Patrick, but he is the subject of many legends. In addition to banishing all snakes, he is credited with using the shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity and a walking stick that grew into a tree.

St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's Day Parade

St. Patrick’s Day was made an official Catholic feast day in the early 17th century. It is also celebrated as a holy day by several other Christian denominations, including the Lutheran Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the Catholic Church, it is a holy day of obligation.

The holiday began to take on secular connotations as a national festival as early as the 18th century. These festivals actually originated with Irish immigrants in North America and elsewhere. It was not until much later that Ireland itself began to celebrate the holiday in this way.

Typical St. Patrick’s Day celebrations include parades and festivals. It is traditional to wear a shamrock or other green item, and you may be pinched if you don’t. The wearing of the green originates with Irish persecution under British rule. The color green was worn by the United Irishmen, who staged a rebellion against the British in 1789. The phrase “wearing of the green” originates with a folk song of that name.

The Irish in Ireland began to celebrate the holiday in earnest when it became a national public holiday in the early 20th century.

St. Patrick’s Day is not an official holiday in the United States, but it is widely celebrated. It is a holiday associated closely with alcohol consumption, and many places offer green beer for the occasion. In fact, it’s fair game to dye pretty much anything green to honor the occasion – everything from baked goods to the entire Chicago River.

Chicago River

If you want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Richmond, try the Church Hill Irish Festival, which takes place this weekend, March 19 and 20. The festival features live music, traditional Irish dance, food, and vendors. Visit the festival website for more information.

Tell us how you’ll be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, and don’t forget to like and share!

Photos: Simon Carrasco, ArdfernMax Talbot-Minkin

Loading Facebook Comments ...

No Comments