Thinking of St. Patrick’s Day always brings raucous parades, shamrocks, corned beef and the color green to mind. But have you ever really stopped to think about why we celebrate the holiday? Why is this one day when everyone claims to be a little bit Irish so popular in the United States? Let’s look back into history to see where St. Patrick’s Day started.
The History of St. Patrick’s Day
The exact dates of his existence are not 100% clear. But according to Catholic.org and History.com, Patrick was born in England to Roman parents Calpurnius and Conchessa in about 385 A.D. Later at the age of about 14, he was enslaved and taken to Ireland to herd and tend sheep. After having an enlightened dream in which he declared God’s presence, he escaped enslavement and rejoined his family back in England. He later returned to Ireland to teach the people of his experience as a Christian and converted most of Ireland to Christianity. He was canonized after his death which occurred on March 17, 461.
Christians in Ireland have long celebrated the date of his passing. But the holiday was a much more somber affair that was spent quietly with family eating salted pork dinners and praying. It wasn’t until Irish immigrants came to the United States that some of the customs we know and love came about. St. Patrick’s Day grew to encompass more of the culture that includes basic Irish and Celtic beliefs as well. It was a perfect way for those immigrants to remember their homeland and bring a bit of it to their new surroundings.
Dying foods green, wearing green clothes and even turning entire rivers green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day may come from St. Patrick’s use of shamrocks to explain the holy trinity to people. But for non-Christians green may symbolize the rebirth of spring or Ireland’s vast green country side. The symbol of the shamrock also grew to include the rare four-leaf clover which is told to bring good luck to its finder.
Corned beef became the meal of choice to serve in American St. Patrick’s Day feasts when the more traditional pork was found to be too expensive here in the states. Corning a brisket of beef is actually borrowed from the Jewish tradition.
As for leprechauns..? They may be the basis for all our more rowdy American St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Leprechauns are said to be small fellows who live in the fairy world, fixing the shoes of all the fairies. They spend their nights singing and dancing. Kids in America like to set traps to see if they can catch one or two of the elusive little guys. Apparently, if you leave a pair of shoes untied, a leprechaun can not walk past without tying them.
So whether you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a religious holiday or just an Irish-inspired fun day for revelry, enjoy it! Any chance to eat good food, hear good music and spend quality time with loved ones is worth it. Céad míle fáilte!
Other St. Patrick’s Day Resources: