Who was St. Patrick?

March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day. Why do we celebrate him?

Shamrocks, parades, pinches, and a whole bunch of green, March 17 is held as a feast day and in observance of the death of St. Patrick.  Over the years, this holiday has evolved into a day full of celebration honoring Irish Culture.

Who was St. Patrick?

St. Patrick was a Christian missionary accredited for converting Ireland to Christianity in the 400s AD. To the disbelief of many, he is not of Irish heritage. He was born in Britain under the name of Maewyn Succat.

He was kidnapped at the age of 16 and brought to Ireland as a slave, working as a shepherd. He escaped, six years after being captured, and spent the next 15 or so years preparing for his missionary work in a monastery.

How is this Holiday Celebrated Around the World?

This holiday is celebrated differently dependent upon where you are in the world on March 17.

Here in the United States, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated through music, parades, dancing, drinking, and the color green. The traditional dish to eat on this day is corned beef and cabbage.

This dish transformed into what it is today when Irish-Americans reinterpreted the traditional dish from the Emerald Isle. The dish is made up of spiced, salty beef cooked in the same pot as plain cabbage. It is a cheap, simple-to-make dish that Americans made their very own.

Around the United States, St. Patrick’s Day is known for its’ parades. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place on March 17, 1762, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City.

In Lexington, the 40th annual Alltech St. Patrick’s Parade and Irish Festival will be taking place on March 16. This parade is the longest running citywide civic event in Lexington. Irish singers, dancers and musicians from across Kentucky will be taking the stage the same day.

But Lexington is not the only place of festivity on St. Patrick’s day.

In Chicago, the river is dyed green. Crowds of people gather each year to watch the blue waters of the river turn to an emerald shade.

Often recalled as the largest St. Patrick’s parade, New York City hosts a parade that marches up 5th Avenue from 44th to 79th streets.

Famously remarked as the origin of this holiday, Ireland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day as a National holiday in which stores, businesses, and banks are closed. It is primarily celebrated as a religious holiday.

St. Patrick’s Day Myths and Legends

The Shamrock is most famously associated with St. Patrick’s Day. The legend says that the shamrocks three leaves were used to explain the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit). This legend is in question, as no record of St. Patrick using this as a teaching tool actually exists.

The original color associated with St. Patrick’s Day was actually blue. The American lore of Leprechauns actually lead to the preference in the color green. It was a way to avoid getting pinched since it was believed Leprechauns could not see green and would pinch anyone they saw.

According to legend, it is believed that St. Patrick drove all of the snakes out of Ireland once they began attack on him during his 40 day fast. But, the tale is unlikely.

According to National Geographic’s Nigel Monaghan, “At no time has there ever been suggestion of snakes in Ireland.” He has searched through vast fossil collections and records of Irish animals. There has been “no evidence of snakes ever existing in Ireland.”