St. Patrick's Day


Saint Patrick's Day is a religious holiday celebrated internationally on 17 March. It commemorates Saint Patrick (c. AD 387–461), the most commonly recognized of the patron saints of Ireland, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. Saint Patrick's Day was made an official feast day in the early 17th century, and has gradually become a secular celebration of Irish culture in general.

Since the earliest centuries of Christianity, it has been a custom to celebrate the anniversary of saints' deaths. This allows believers to honor the saint's accomplishments and celebrate their entry into heaven. A "feast day" is designated for every saint, even when the exact date of death of a saint is not known.

Patrick's Life

Little is known of Patrick's early life, though it is known that he was born in Roman Britain in the 4th century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father and grandfather were deacons in the Church. At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken captive to Ireland as a slave. According to his Confession, he was told by God in a dream to flee from captivity to the coast, where he would board a ship and return to Britain. Upon returning, he quickly joined the Church in Auxerre in Gaul and studied to be a priest.

In 432, he again said that he was called back to Ireland, though as a bishop, to Christianise the Irish from their native polytheism. After nearly thirty years of evangelism, he died on March 17, 461, and according to tradition, was buried at Downpatrick. Although there were other more successful missions to Ireland from Rome, Patrick endured as the principal champion of Irish Christianity and is held in esteem in the Irish Church.


The most common traditions on St. Patrick's Day include wearing green, enjoying Irish folk music and food, and by consuming large quantities of Irish beer (sometimes dyed green) or other Irish liquors such as Irish whiskey, Irish Coffee or Baileys Irish Cream. 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.

In the United States, St. Patrick's Day would not be St. Patrick's Day unless the Chicago River is dyed green. This tradition began in 1962, when Chicago pollution-control workers used green dye to trace illegal sewage discharges in the river. The workers thought it might be a fun way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, so they released 100 pounds of green vegetable dye into the river – enough to keep it green for a week! The idea was a hit, and continues to this day. However, only 40 pounds of dye are used today to minimize environmental damage.

In Britain, the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother used to present bowls of shamrock specially flown over from Ireland to members of the Irish Guards, a regiment in the British Army made up of Irish people from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The first St. Patrick's Day parade took place not in Ireland but in the United States. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City on March 17, 1762. Along with their music, the parade helped the soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots, as well as fellow Irishmen serving in the English army.


  • Shamrocks

According to Christian legend, St. Patrick used the three-leafed clover to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity to his pagan audience in Ireland. However, this story did not appear until more than 1000 years after St. Patrick's death.
In ancient Ireland, the Celtic people revered the shamrock as a sacred plant because it symbolized the rebirth of spring. By the 17 th century, when the English began to seize Irish land and suppress Irish language and religion, the shamrock became a symbol of Irish nationalism.

  • Leprechauns

The diminutive creatures we know as leprechauns were known in ancient Irish as "lobaircin," meaning "small-bodied fellow." Belief in leprechauns probably stems from Celtic belief in fairies, tiny creatures who could use their magical powers for good or evil. In Celtic folklore, the lobaircin were cranky fairies who mended the shoes of the other fairies. They were also mischievous and delighted in trickery, which they used to guard their fabled treasure.
The cheerful friendly version of the leprechaun known to us today is based in large part on Walt Disney's 1959 film Darby O'Gill and the Little People. It quickly evolved into a symbol of St. Patrick's Day and Ireland in general.

  • Corned Beef and Cabbage

Corned beef and cabbage is the traditional meal enjoyed by many on St. Patrick's Day, but only half of it is truly Irish. Cabbage has long been a staple of the Irish diet, but it was traditionally served with Irish bacon, not corned beef. The corned beef was substituted for bacon by Irish immigrants to the Americas around the turn of the century who could not afford the real thing. They learned about the cheaper alternative from their Jewish neighbors.