History of St. Patrick’s Day


Angela Rowlings / Boston Herald

Most people recognize St. Patrick’s Day by the vibrant display of green, the parades, and the Irish culture cultivated by it. But did you know that St. Patrick’s Day is actually a religious holiday that’s been celebrated in Ireland for over a millennium?

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and lived during the 5th century. He was born in Roman Britain and kidnapped to become an Irish slave at age sixteen. He escaped captivity and returned in his later years to spread Catholicism to the native people of Ireland. While he was there, he built schools, churches, and monasteries. Legends spread about how he drove snakes out of Ireland and used the three-leaf shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the people. The shamrock has now become a symbol of St. Patrick’s Day today.

He died on March 17, 461, and by the ninth and tenth century, Irish people began having feasts to honor him during the Lenten season. The tradition of Lent for Catholics prohibits them from eating meat, however, St. Patrick’s Day would be a day to feast, drink, and celebrate. Interestingly enough, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in New York City on March 17, 1762. It was hosted by an Irish soldier serving the English army. This helped the Irishmen connect with their roots in Europe.

Over the next few decades, Irish organizations began hosting their own annual parades, which included singing, dancing, and bagpipes. In 1848, the official parade in New York City formed. Today, over 3 million people attend annually. Additionally, people have interesting traditions in cities such as Chicago and Savannah, like the Chicago river being dyed green and the fountain in Forsyth Park being dyed green as well. Large parades are also held in Dublin, Belfast, and notably, in Tokyo.

Unfortunately, many other traditions, particularly the common meal of corned beef and cabbage that is eaten on this day, have few roots in Irish heritage. Irish-Americans usually acquired corned beef from Jewish butchers in urban areas due to availability, not tradition. They then added cabbage and carrots to the pot the corned beef cooked in. In Ireland, people traditionally eat bacon or lamb. Along with that, Irish soda bread was created in America and only became popular in Ireland during the 1800s because of their financial struggles.

While St. Patrick’s Day celebrations primarily take place in the United States and Ireland, there are other celebrations held for it around the world. In Auckland, New Zealand, they hold a parade, traditional music and dance competition, and light up their sky tower green. On the Caribbean island of Montserrat, they hold a calypso masquerade where they crack whips and dance traditional Irish jigs. Other celebrations including dancing and beer-drinking are held in locations such as London, England, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Cabo Roig, Spain.


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