Sometimes, only after our college years, do we begin to wonder the exact origin of St. Patrick’s Day. The true traditions and meaning behind the holiday come to the front of our minds as the need to heavily celebrate dulls. Chances are, if you are reading this, it is because you have already asked yourself the question, “What is St. Patrick’s Day really?” Well, you’re in luck (pun intended). Here are the truths of St. Patrick’s Day.
Saint Patrick was not from Ireland.
St. Patrick was born in Kilpatrick, Scotland in 387. Then, his family moved to Britain to care for Roman colonies. Around the age of sixteen, St. Patrick was kidnapped from his family’s estate in Britain during a raid conducted by Irishmen. He was later sold as a slave to herd sheep in Ireland.
Then how did St. Patrick become, well, a saint?
Although St. Patrick spent many years living with the “pagans” of Ireland, he strengethed his faith in Christianity. He prayed often. During prayer, he had a vision that it was time for him to escape Ireland. Fleeing to the docks, St. Patrick was able to escape to France where later he was reunited with his family in Britain.
St. Patrick felt as though his calling was to study Christianity. He spent just over 14 years studying Roman Catholicism. During a dream, St. Patrick heard the very people who captured and enslaved him calling him to walk amongst them once more. He had taken this as a sign to fill the people of Ireland’s hearts and minds with the love and knowledge of Christianity. After being ordained Bishop, St. Patrick went back to Ireland where he successfully built churches and spread the religion for 30 years until his death in the 5th century. He was believed to die on March 17th, which is why St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated this time every year.
Is the Shamrock Legend true?
One of the most well-known legends of St. Patrick is that of the shamrock. As a missionary, St. Patrick was known to explain The Trinity as the leaves of Ireland’s clover, the shamrock. While the leaves all look separate. Each having a strong individual presence, the closer you get to the stem, they are all one. Much like the Trinity, while all seen as different entities, they are all part of God. This held a lot of meaning to pagan Ireland as they were said to have many traditions and beliefs based around the number three (St. Patrick must have been a very smart man). However popular this story may be, there is little documentation to pose it as a fact. The first real mention is in 1675 where St. Patrick is depicted in the detail of a stained glass window holding a shamrock clover.
What about the legend of the snakes?
Another legend says that St. Patrick drove all of the snakes out of Ireland. Well, Ireland never really had many snakes and he had nothing to do with their snake-free status. Although, it could quite possibly have been a metaphor for his successful mission of spreading Christianity throughout Ireland and driving the “evil pagan” religions and beliefs out.
Well, why does anyone celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?
St. Patrick’s Day was originally celebrated as the Feast of Saint Patrick in 17th century Ireland. It was a religious holiday that occurred during the Christian season of Lent. In the morning, Christians attended church to honor the saint. The afternoons were spent feasting, drinking, and celebrating. A free pass was given during the Feast of Saint Patrick and traditional Irish bacon and cabbage was a popular meal.
In 1762 Colonial NY hosted its first St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Irish immigrants who were part of the British colonial army marched down the streets of New York to honor the patron saint of Ireland. Since then, it has been the US’s oldest, and most watched parade. Most identify St. Patrick’s Day as a drinking holiday. Many people did not know that until the 1960s, pubs in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick’s Day! Drinking all day and night would have been too sinful.
What’s with all the green?
Well, Ireland (also known as the Emerald Island), is associated with the shamrock, thanks to St. Patrick. What most people don’t know is that the pagan beliefs around the color green were very different than how we view them today. It used to be considered bad luck to wear green. It was the color of the faeries and if your children wore too much green, it was believed that the faeries would take you away.
As time progressed, Christianity debunked this theory and people began to associate the symbol with the luck of the Irish. In the 19th century Ireland even declared green as a symbol of Ireland (it was originally blue). Oh, and if you forget to wear green, expect to get pinched! It is now tradition for children to pinch those who forget to wear this lucky color on St. Patrick’s Day.
So there you have it, a quick look into the true history of St. Patrick’s Day and how it came to be. Now that you have done your research, you may go enjoy a Guinness or maybe one of those green beers they are serving these days.