What comes to mind when you think of Saint Patrick’s Day? Leprechauns? Clovers? Well the popular holiday celebrated by the Irish in Ireland and elsewhere has a good amount of history. Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland for a reason!
Born in the fifth century, he was kidnapped at the age of 16 in Roman Britain. He was brought to Ireland as a slave and worked for six years as a herdsman. One day, he dreamed of an escape ship ready to escape in, after which he actually found a way to escape back to (what would be) England.
Once there after some time, he had another dream where a man named Victorious (historically, either a missionary or a martyr) delivered a letter called “The Voice of the Irish.” Along with the letter were cries of Irishmen saying, “We entreat thee, holy youth, to come henceforth walk amongst us.” “Deeply moved,” Patrick decided to return to Ireland where he went around baptizing and spreading Christianity, which became his greatest legacy — bringing Christianity to Ireland.
He’s now known for his writings Confessio (spiritual autobiography) and Letter to Coroticus (denunciation of British mistreatment of Irish Christians). March 17th is the day of his death — the day dedicated to celebrating him along with Irish pride.
Through the years, myths about St. Patrick grew, for instance a legend of him using the
Irish clover (shamrock) to explain the Trinity, him driving snakes into the sea and raising people from the dead. Many of the things stereotypically surrounding St. Patrick’s Day include customs that have developed through this wave of myths over time — leprechauns, shamrocks, etc.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated all over the world (including many unexpected places), but a place it’s had much influence in is the US. There are more than 100 St. Patrick’s Day parades in the US every year, with the largest in NYC and Boston. The first St. Patrick’s day parade in the US in NYC on March 17th, 1762 when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through the city. Irish patriotism among American immigrants eventually flourished with the rise of “Irish Aid” societies such as the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Hibernian Society. In 1848, NYC’s Irish Aid societies formed one NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In fact, NYC’s St. Pat’s parade today is the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the US with over 150,000 participants, a 5-hour procession and 3,000,000 street observers.
Every city and community has its own way of celebrating the holiday with something unique. NYC has its own huge celebration and Chicago dyes the Chicago River green. But for everyone celebrating, whether while going out with friends or dressing green for the day, remember that this holiday is about something more than just costumes and Irish jigs. Perhaps appreciating a bit of the history could add some more meaningful twists to the festivities.