The History of St. Patrick's Day

This weekend is being called the St. Patrick’s Day Trifecta due to all the fun activities around town Friday – Sunday, March 17th.  All the chit chat about where everyone will be celebrating this weekend prompted us to research why we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day each year.  We know it involves wearing green (so you don’t get pinched), corn beef & cabbage, parades and green beer.  But why?

Interestingly, Saint Patrick’s real name was Maewynn and he wasn’t born a saint.  He wasn’t even born Irish.  He was born in 387 A.D. in England.  He was kidnapped at age 16 and sold to Ireland as a slave.  He worked as a shepherd and after six years of slavery he escaped to France.  But he vowed to one day return to Ireland because he had grown to like the spirit of the Irish.

Once in France he studied religion at monasteries for twelve years and during that time his name was changed to Patrick.  He was eventually ordained a priest and then a bishop.  Pope Celestine I commissioned Patrick to be an apostle to Ireland to establish the Catholic church there.  There the Irish people were receptive to his teachings and he was able to take several of their Celtic symbols and Christianize them.  Specifically, the green shamrock which was held sacred by the Druids.  He used this plant as a symbol of the Trinity.  Little by little, the old religion began to fade. 

Patrick traveled from town to town, tearing down idols and temples, erecting schools and monasteries, and establishing the Catholic Church.  He accomplished all of this in less than 30 years and the whole island nation of Ireland was converted to Catholicism. 

Patrick died on March 17th, 461 AD and every year thereafter, people celebrate his life.  Though he was never formally canonized as a pope, St. Patrick is on the List of Saints, and was declared a Saint in Heaven by many Catholic churches.  The people of Ireland observe the anniversary of his death as a national holiday and on this day they do not work.  They observe the day in worship and family gatherings where they eat a traditional meal of cabbage and Irish bacon. 

In the United States, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in New York on March 17 of 1762. It consisted largely of Irish soldiers.   Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by wearing green which symbolizes the return of spring as well as the Irish culture. Also, prominent in this celebration is green beer, pointing back to Saint Patrick’s introduction of alcohol to Ireland.

So, what about the leprechaun?  Does anyone know why he is often present at St. Patrick’s Day celebrations?

– S.O.