Saint Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick, is a cultural and religious holiday celebrated annually on March 17th, the anniversary of the Saint’s death. It commemorates the life and work of Saint Patrick (c. AD 385–461), the most commonly recognized patron saint of Ireland, and the arrival of Christianity in the Emerald Isle. A worldwide celebration of Irish culture and history, the holiday is generally characterized by the attendance of church services, wearing of green attire, public parades and processions, and the lifting of Lenten restrictions on eating, and drinking alcohol. Very little is known of Patrick’s early life, though is it certain that he was born during the fourth century in Roman Britain to a wealthy Romano-British family. At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish marauders, and taken captive to Ireland as a slave. According to his Confession, he was told by God in a dream to flee from captivity and make a run for the coast, where he eventually boarded a pirate’s ship and returned to Britain. Upon his return, he quickly joined the Christian Church, and studied to become a priest. Many years later, as a bishop, God spoke to Patrick once again, this time commanding him to return to Ireland to spread the word of Christianity, and save the Irish from their “sinful” polytheism. He was hugely successful in his mission, and according to legend, Saint Patrick used a 3-leaved shamrock to demonstrate the holy trinity to the Irish people. The legend of Saint Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland is actually a metaphor for driving out the old, evil pagan ways. Although in later years there were many other, more successful missions to Ireland from Rome, Patrick has endured as the principal champion of Irish Christianity, and is held in high esteem in the Irish church.
I’m sure you would assume that the color of Saint Patrick is green, but it was originally blue! It’s thanks to Patrick’s use of the shamrock that we now associate the holiday with the color green. The genesis of the color began with Irish legends, in which fairies and immortals wore emerald garments, which in turn led farmers to wear green to encourage their crops to grow. In the 1798 Irish rebellion, to make a political statement, Irish soldiers wore full green uniforms on March 17th in hopes of catching public attention. Nowadays, Saint Patrick’s Day instantly makes you think of green. In fact, green is the most captured color on film on St. Patty’s Day, and most people wear it to show their support and admiration for the Irish culture, and to avoid being pinched by others of course! Today, people of all backgrounds celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, especially throughout the United States, Canada and Australia, but other countries far removed from Ireland also celebrate the holiday, including Japan, Singapore and Russia.
Here are some fun facts about St. Patrick’s Day, shamrocks, and the color green:
- The very first St. Patrick’s Day parade was not in Ireland. It was held in Boston in 1737.
- According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the highest number of leaves found on a clover is 14.
- In Chicago, on St. Patrick’s Day, the Chicago River is dyed green, and many bars around the country also serve green beer.
- One estimate suggests that there are about 10,000 regular three-leaf clovers for every lucky four-leaf clover. Legend says that each leaf of the clover means something: the first is for hope, the second for faith, the third for love, and the fourth for luck.