The History Of St. Patrick's Day: 9 Facts You Need To Know About The Holiday's Origins
St. Patrick's Day 2015 is almost here, and you know what that means. Get out your green garb, find some shamrocks and build up your strength to partake in some over-21 festivities, if you know what I mean.
St. Patrick's Day is a day for anyone, whether you are Irish or not, to let loose and have a bit of fun. But how did St. Patrick's Day become the big party that it is today with parades, kissing the Blarney Stone, lots of drinking and revelry in general? Well, let's just say this holiday didn't start out as one big pub crawl. The history of St. Patrick's Day is much more modest than today's celebrations would lead you to believe.
Here are nine things you need to know about why and how we celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
1. What Do We Celebrate On St. Patrick's Day?
St. Patrick's Day started out as a feast day for St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland (more on him later). A feast day is pretty much just a celebration, usually in the Christian faith, that is commemorated with a meal. People traditionally celebrated St. Patrick's Day by attending mass and thinking about the life and legacy of St. Patrick, according to PennLive.
2. Who Was St. Patrick?
These days, St. Patrick's Day celebrations don't have much to do with the man for which the holiday is named. Nonetheless, he is an important figure in Irish Catholic history. Ironically, St. Patrick wasn't even Irish. He was born in Britain around A.D. 390 to an aristocratic Christian family, according to National Geographic. According to folklore, St. Patrick was kidnapped and brought to Ireland at 16, but he escaped and was reunited with his family in Britain at the encouragement of a voice he heard in his dreams, which later told him to go to Ireland. St. Patrick became a priest and then spent the rest of his life converting the Irish to Christianity.
3. Did He Really Get Rid Of All Of The Snakes In Ireland?
One common myth about St. Patrick is that he drove all of the snakes out of Ireland. As much as that sounds like a Ridley Scott movie, this is unfortunately just a myth. Sure, there are no snakes in Ireland today, but there actually never were, according to National Geographic. The frigid waters that surround Ireland made it too cold for snakes to arrive there from Britain. When literature mentions St. Patrick getting rid of all of the snakes in Ireland, it is probably just a metaphor for ridding the country of its "old, evil, pagan ways," according to National Geographic.
4. Why Is St. Patrick's Day On March 17?
We celebrate St. Patrick's Day on March 17 every year, but why is that? No, it's not just to have a holiday in March, which is usually a dull month in terms of major celebrations. The date commemorates the day St. Patrick died, believed to be in A.D. 461. Upon his death, St. Patrick was mostly forgotten, according to National Geographic. However, a mythology grew around the religious figure, and by the 9th or 10th century, people in Ireland began observing St. Patrick's Day as a feast day.
5. When Did It Become All About Partying?
So as you can see, St. Patrick's Day was a pretty tame holiday in the beginning. In fact, it was a minor religious holiday in Ireland until the 1970s, National Geographic reports. Pubs even closed on March 17 in Ireland every year until the 1970s. We can trace some of the modern revelry associated with St. Patrick's Day to the fact that prohibitions on eating meat, drinking and dancing during Lent were lifted for the day.
However, America is responsible for turning St. Patrick's Day into the big party we know and love today, which is totally not surprising. There's some debate over when the first St. Patrick's Day parade took place, but early celebrations happened in Boston in 1737 and New York in 1762. St. Patrick's Day celebrations continued to grow as more and more Irish immigrants came to the U.S., especially after the Irish Potato Famine hit in 1845. Today, there are celebrations in many small towns, big cities and bars across the country. New York's St. Patrick's Day parade is the world's oldest civilian parade and the largest parade in the U.S., according to History.com. Chicago is also famous for dyeing the Chicago River green every year for its St. Patrick's Day celebration.
6. Why Do We Wear Green?
At any St. Patrick's Day event you attend these days, you will just see a sea of green. There isn't really one reason why this is the official color of St. Patrick's Day, but the color green has a lot of connections to Ireland and springtime. It's featured in the Irish flag, Ireland is nicknamed the "Emerald Isle," it represents spring and it's the color of shamrocks, The Christian Science Monitor points out. And remember, if you don't wear green, you risk being pinched. That wholly American tradition comes from the idea that people thought wearing green helped ward off being pinched by leprechauns (seriously), according to The Christian Science Monitor. Leprechauns would pinch anyone they could see, i.e. anyone not wearing green.
7. Why Are Shamrocks A Thing?
According to legend, St. Patrick used shamrocks, those three-leaf clovers, to explain the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit while trying to convert people to Christianity, according to National Geographic. However, people didn't really start wearing shamrocks until as early as the 17th century. Most shamrocks that people used today are of the Trifolium dubium variety, in case you were wondering. Feel like a tasty Shamrock Shake right about now?
8. Are Leprechauns Real?
No, of course not! Why would you ask such a thing? However, leprechauns do have a rich history in Irish folklore. Tales of these little fairies were passed down from generation to generation. They were said to be "shoemakers who socked away their profits in pots at the end of rainbows, or scattered them around in mountains, forests, or rocks," according to TIME. It is said that people have looked for leprechauns to get a piece of that gold and because they're rumored to bring good luck. Oh man. If only these little guys actually existed, how rich we all could be. Having said that, you could make yourself a Tropical Leprechaun to celebrate St. Paddy's Day!
9. What's The Deal With Corned Beef And Cabbage?
Even if you don't know anything about Irish culture, you've probably heard that corned beef and cabbage is a traditional Irish dish eaten on St. Patrick's Day. However, the corned beef part of the meal actually used to be bacon because cows were actually not generally used for their meat in Gaelic Ireland but their strength in the fields and their milk. Corned beef and cabbage is really an American creation, which originates from Irish immigrants in New York buying the meat from kosher butchers, according to Smithsonian.com. Corned beef and cabbage is essentially Jewish corned beef put in a pot with cabbage and potatoes. The traditional St. Patrick's Day meal in Ireland is still lamb or bacon.