A History of St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick’s Day, the light-hearted boisterous event that sees revelers around the world celebrating their Irish ancestry, originates from a Catholic commemoration of a real Saint Patrick. Living between 387 to 461 AD, Patrick was a missionary sent to Ireland to introduce his religion to the pagans. Over the centuries, he became revered as the country’s patron saint. His feast day has traditionally been celebrated on March 17. In older times, Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland was marked with festivities that included alcoholic drinks, singing and dancing, and feasts of traditional foods. This celebration was later carried over to America where Irish immigrants would honor their heritage with parades and parties.

St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations in Ireland

In modern-day Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day still holds more religious overtones than in America. This was so much so, that pubs and bars were mandated to close on this day, until the 1970s. The people show off some of the country’s symbols in the forms of shamrock, green ribbons, and tri-colored badges adorning their clothing. More recently, Dublin has made a week-long event of St. Patrick’s Day, in part to appeal to tourists. This festival includes fireworks, live outdoor music performances, and a parade.

Parades on St. Patrick’s Day

In several countries, St. Patrick’s Day is marked with a large parade. The most tremendous parades recently have been in Dublin, Birmingham, and New York. However, the New York parade is actually the oldest one worldwide, going as far back as 1762. This original parade was meant to allow Irish soldiers in America to remember and celebrate their roots. Other countries that host St. Patrick’s Day parades include Canada, France, Italy, Russia and Singapore. There are many different groups that participate in these parades, including school or university marching bands, Irish cultural groups and associations, Irish immigrants, and police teams. While the majority of people who participate and celebrate are indeed Irish, people from other cultures are also free to take part. Non-Irish people who participate in St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are said to be “Irish for a day”.

Additional St. Patrick’s Day Traditions

Today, the most prominent aspects of St. Patrick’s Day traditions include green clothing and decorations, Irish folk music and dance, and consuming Irish food and drinking green-dyed Irish beers. In Chicago, partiers go one step further by dying the Chicago River as well! Since the early 1990s, it has also become an American tradition to invite Irish prime ministers to attend special events to mark the day. By custom, they offer a shamrock as a gift to the U.S. President. More recently, the Irish government heads to foreign countries to introduce and celebrate their culture abroad on St. Patrick’s Day. During the days of the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth, she would gift shamrocks specifically from Ireland to members of an Irish regiment within the British Army.

St. Patrick’s Day Symbols

Shamrocks are one of the most prominent symbols of St. Patrick’s Day. It stems from a legend that relates how the original St. Patrick depicted the Holy Trinity by using a three-leafed clover as a metaphor. There is some doubt as to the authenticity of this however, since the story only originated around a thousand years after his death. Perhaps more significantly, the ancient Celtics did, in fact, consider the shamrock to be sacred and associated it with Spring and new beginnings.

Leprechauns are a tongue-in-cheek symbol used by many to symbolize Irish culture, especially on St. Patrick’s Day. It largely comes from old Celtic folklore of fairies and small magical creatures. While leprechauns in those times were considered mischievous, today they are viewed as cheerful creatures.

A third symbol seen on St. Patrick’s Day is a dish of corned beef with cabbage. While many people around the world consider it to be a traditional Irish meal, natives typically consume cabbage with Irish bacon instead. The variation of using corned beef originated with Irish immigrants who settled in America. In those days, bacon was quite expensive, so a cheaper substitute was found.

Additional Resources

An Animated Journey of St. Patrick

How St. Patrick’s Day Originated (PPT)

St. Patrick’s Day Stories and Activities

The St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin

Symbols of St. Patrick’s Day

The New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Watch a Video About St. Patrick’s Day

What is St. Patrick’s Day About?

Try a St. Patrick’s Day Quiz!