Saint Patrick’s Day: Origin, Traditions, and Facts

Saint Patrick’s Day is a holiday to commemorate Saint Patrick’s life and legacy, a day filled with festivities and merriment.

Most of what we know about Saint Patrick’s Day has been through pop culture references or our Irish friends. We usually associate this day with a beer or the color green. 

But do we really know why it is a holiday? 

The customs for celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day seem timeless. But they are not the only ways the holiday has been observed in the past and present. There is more to this day than we know.

What is Saint Patrick’s Day?

Saint Patrick’s Day

Who is Saint Patrick?

Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He is venerated as the country’s saint of protection and guidance. But one interesting fact about him was he was not Irish. Saint Patrick was born in Dumbarton, Scotland, in 385. 

When Patrick was a teenager, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates. The slave trade in Ireland led to him becoming a shepherd. Despite the hardships, he found solace in the Christian faith. Many people forgot about the Christian faith during the Roman conquest. But Saint Patrick was different. After six years, Saint Patrick courageously escaped from captivity. But he was again taken captive in England. 

Two months after, he escaped and traveled through Europe. He studied Christianity in France. When he returned to England, he was already a priest. In his dream, the Irish were calling for his help. He returned to Ireland and convinced the King of his intention to spread the word of God. At 76, Saint Patrick died on March 17, 461 A.D.

History of Saint Patrick’s Day

In 1631, the Catholic Church recognized March 17th as a day to commemorate Saint Patrick. March 17 usually fell on the week of Lent. For this reason, the Irish could not drink alcohol. 

However, an exception was made every March 17th to celebrate the feast day of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland has remained a religiously significant one. The Irish attend mass during the day and celebrate in the evening. However, all pubs in Ireland were required to remain closed on March 17. This closure was to limit the consumption of alcohol during this day. Before it was overturned in the 1970s, this had been the law in Ireland. 

It became an official holiday in 1903 through the Bank Holiday Act of 1903. Ireland became aware of the growing interest of tourists during this day. Ireland’s promotion of Patrick’s Day began in 1995. The Irish Government realized the day’s tourism advantages and prospects. It began to advertise its culture and attractions through Saint Patrick’s Day.

Saint Patrick’s Day spread to the United States of America through Irish immigration in the 1800s. The Irish were initially oppressed, leaving them unemployed and poor. They found solace in celebrating this day together. The first parade was in New York City in 1848.

When is Saint Patrick’s Day?

It is an annual celebration every March 17. It is also the death anniversary of Saint Patrick.

Why Celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day?

Irish Christians revered Saint Patrick so much. This is why March 17 was made a day to commemorate his life and death. He is remembered as the one who brought Christianity to Ireland. 

How is Saint Patrick’s Day Commemorated? 

Symbols and Traditions

Saint Patrick’s Day is well-known for being a festive holiday. It is usually associated with design, decorations, and symbols.

Parades

This day was already a holiday in Ireland. When Irish Americans moved to the United States, everything changed. It became a major celebration. 

The first-ever Saint Patrick’s Day Parade was in New York City. Parades quickly became an integral part of the holiday celebrations. Parades become a way to show solidarity and pride in one’s culture. The best way for the Irish to display their pride and culture was to march through town as a single unit. 

Irish Music

The Irish have been using music to introduce their knowledge and history. Today, modern-day performers carry the torch, often in a formal band and at other times in a Seisiun, a gathering in pubs where traditional Irish music is played.

Leprechaun

Irish and Celtic folklore and faerie beliefs have inspired this day’s symbolism of the leprechaun. In Irish folklore, leprechauns were once considered solitary, diminutive, mischievous, and generally cranky faeries. They had the power to grant three wishes to the person that captured them. 

Initially, leprechauns did not have anything to do with Saint Patrick’s Day. But they started to be fixtures since they were featured in the Disney film Darby O’Gill & the Little People. 

Saint Patrick’s Day

The snake

In one of his most well-known myths, he was believed to have banished snakes from Ireland. This tale was probably born out of a desire to explain why snakes are not native to Ireland. The story narrates that all the snakes in Ireland slithered away after Saint Patrick threw a silver bell down the sacred mountain called Crogh Patrick. 

This narrative illustrates how Saint Patrick’s Christianity marked the end of Ireland’s pagan Druidic religions. His banishment of snakes is a powerful metaphor for abandoning old druidic practices and beliefs as the Irish converted to Christianity.

Shamrock

The shamrock is a kind of plant and is a well-known symbol because of its religious connotations. Upon his arrival in Ireland, Saint Patrick made extensive use of the shamrock to illustrate the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The resemblance was used since the shamrock has three leaves but is still considered a single flower. The shamrock on this day began in the 17th century.

Eating corned beef and cabbage

During this day, corned beef and cabbage are popular choices. However, corned beef and cabbage is not a traditional dish in Ireland. 

The majority of the country’s Irish immigrants settled in Massachusetts and New York after fleeing the Great Famine. They were shocked to discover that bacon was prohibitively expensive when they arrived in the United States. They began purchasing corned beef from Kosher butchers and substituting it for pork to save money. Corned beef and cabbage became a popular dish because of this. March 17 is even designated as National Corned Beef and Cabbage Day.

Saint Patrick’s Day in various places

Celebrating this day is not only confined to Ireland. In fact, it is the most celebrated holiday after Christmas Day and New Year. The celebrations take on a distinct cultural flavor worldwide.

Ireland

During the annual O’Connell Street Festival, families from all over Dublin gather at 11 in the morning to watch floats depicting mythical creatures and animals parade down O’Connell Street. The event is much more diverse than similar ones in the United States, and participants include both children and adults. The crowds of onlookers are enormous, and they show up in droves come rain or shine. 

In Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Day is a five-day mega celebration. The festivities in Belfast, Dublin, and Wild Atlantic Way last from March 15-19. There are huge parades, road races, and musical performances.

Europe

Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Scotland, and Denmark. There are parades, beer-drinking, eating Irish food, and dancing to Irish music. Irish pubs offer significant discounts for beer and other alcoholic drinks. There are also pub crawls where groups participate in a three-legged race visiting Irish pubs. In Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, festivities last for an entire week.

Americas

Over a hundred cities across the United States celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with parades. In Chicago, Americans have the famous “Green River Day.” There is also a Saint Patrick’s Day Festival at the Irish American Heritage Center, where celebrators enjoy Irish music, dance, and Irish food and drinks.

Oceania

Saint Patrick’s Day festivities take over ten days in Brisbane and include a parade and Irish dancing, dinners, and boxing matches. Sydney celebrates with the largest Saint Patrick’s Day festivities. Sydney also commemorates Saint Patrick’s Day through their own parade and festival. A wide range of activities includes dancing, singing, crafts-making, face painting, and eating Irish food.

Asia

Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and China. In South Korea, Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Seoul. An outdoor festival is held, where Irish food and beer are served. There are also raffle prizes and live concerts. 

In Japan, Saint Patrick’s Day is held in Tokyo. A parade is held on Omotesando Avenue, where 50,000 people flock to the streets. Some attend wearing Irish costumes, while others come as leprechauns. Irish beer is also served. 

In Singapore, there is a parade to commemorate Saint Patrick’s Day. This parade is the largest in Southeast Asia. Singaporeans flock to the streets, wearing green

The largest Saint Patrick’s Day celebration takes place in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur’s Shangri-La Hotel holds a ball. There are Irish food and drinks in Irish pubs. 

In China, landmarks and tourist attractions light up with the color green. Several parades are conducted in Shanghai. Irish drinks and food are also served in Irish pubs.

International Space Station

Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated worldwide and in space as well. In the International Space Station, astronauts celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day by peering down from the perch and catching a glimpse of Ireland. They take photos of Ireland and post them online. 

In 2011, NASA astronauts Cady Coleman and Dan Burbank joined the Irish band, The Chieftains, from space during their concert.

Saint Patrick’s Day

In Summary

Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. Saint Patrick’s Day is a holiday to commemorate Saint Patrick’s life and legacy. It is celebrated every March 17. However, celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day is more than just being Irish. Saint Patrick’s Day is a day of festivities and merriment. 

During this holiday, green clothing, leprechauns, and shamrocks are among the most well-known holiday traditions, but they are far from the only ones. While Saint Patrick’s Day is near and dear to Ireland, it is also familiar to billions worldwide. You don’t have to be Irish. You are more than welcome to join the festivities if you want to join the festivities. 

In various countries around the world, there are a variety of festivities planned to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. The holiday has developed into a commemoration of Irish culture, with parades, Irish food, Irish music, partying, and having a drink.

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Alex Shute
EDITOR
Alex Shute, MBA
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.