St. Patrick’s Day is a popular celebration that allows Irish people to celebrate their history and culture. It is known for parades, shamrocks, and leprechauns as well as the color green. Many traditions and symbols are linked to St. Patrick, this 5th century man who is known to have converted the island of Ireland to Christianity. Here we present the history of this festival, the history of St. Patrick, the traditions and the celebration around the world.
Who Was Saint Patrick
Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and its national apostle. Born in Roman Britain at the end of the 4th century, St. Patrick’s original name was Maewyn Succat. Until his adolescence, he considered himself a pagan, a quasi-atheist. At the age of 16, he was kidnapped by pirates and then sold as a slave in Ireland.
For six years he worked as a shepherd for an Irish chieftain. He learned the local language and converted to Christianity. Then, in 409, he managed to escape to England where he acquired religious training and adopted the pseudonym of Patrick and became deacon and bishop. He later decides to return to Ireland in order to evangelize the country. The Irish consider St. Patrick to be the founder of Christianity in Ireland. Moreover, he is known to have initiated the construction of many religious monuments such as monasteries and churches before his death on March 17, 461.
According to legend, it is also to Saint Patrick that Ireland owes its symbol: the shamrock. The bishop used the three leaves of a native Irish shamrock in a sermon to explain to the Lords of the Kingdom of Ireland the mystery of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in order to convert them. St. Patrick is celebrated because of the Catholic religion and the beer he brought to Ireland.
History of the Celebration
St. Patrick’s Day is a religious holiday adopted by the Christian Churches. This holiday is celebrated every year on March 17, the anniversary of the death of St. Patrick in the fifth century. St. Patrick’s Day has been recognized as a public holiday in Ireland since 1607 and has been declared a bank holiday since 1903, even though it was already celebrated by the Irish in the 9th and 10th centuries. Over time, Saint Patrick has been associated with Ireland in the system of religious patronage.
Then, the Christian holiday became civil and established itself as Ireland’s unofficial national holiday. In the 1990s, St. Patrick’s Day became a real festival of celebration and promotion of Irish culture, at the initiative of the government.
Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world, especially in the United States, Canada and Australia but also in Japan, Singapore and Russia.
The popularity of St. Patrick’s Day in the United States is the result of the large Irish emigration from the Great Famine of the 19th century. By the end of the 19th century, nearly 2 million Irish emigrated to America, bringing their culture and traditions to the country. This is how St. Patrick’s Day becomes a secular holiday celebrated by Irish emigrants but also by Americans. The emigrants settled massively in the cities of the North-East of the United States like New York, Chicago and Boston where the first and the most important parades of Saint Patrick were organized.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in 1737 in Boston. The second opened in New York in 1762 and is one of the largest in the world thanks to three million annual participants. The city of Chicago has also participated every year since 1962 by dying its river green.
Today, more than 100 St. Patrick’s Day parades are held across the United States with millions of spectators. It is the country that organizes the most parades in the world, whether they are large cities or small towns. It is now a reason for tourists to visit during March.
In fact, until the 1970s, St. Patrick’s Day was traditionally a religious occasion, but from 1995 the Irish government decided to use the global interest in St. Patrick’s Day to boost tourism and highlight Irish culture. So, this turned the parade into a 5-day festival. The first festival in 1996 brought together over 430,000 Irish people. Each year, St. Patrick’s Day takes place mainly on the streets and in Irish pubs. It traditionally consists of parades, fireworks, music and Irish dancing.
Irish Traditions of Saint Patrick’s Day
Since St. Patrick’s Day takes place during Lent, the tradition for believers was to break the fast on this occasion. The practicing families were very attached to the tradition of going to church on that day before celebrating. Apart from the many parades, this is an opportunity for people to dance, drink and enjoy traditional Irish food. Today, the green colour of St. Patrick’ day, shamrocks, music and beer are featured to celebrate Irish tradition and culture.
The icon of an Irish party is the Leprechaun. He is a classic and iconic character in Irish folklore and St. Patrick’s Day. He is a little elf of about thirty centimetres, with a red beard and dressed in green. He is often represented with a cauldron of gold coins and his treasure.
According to legend, the Leprechaun hides a treasure in his cauldron and whoever manages to capture it can make him confess the location of the hiding place. It is said that the Leprechaun hides his treasure at the end of a rainbow or that he magically transports him with his little bundle. The elves have their own holidays on May 13, but are also celebrated on St. Patrick’s Day, many disguising themselves as cunning fairies.
One of the most famous symbols of St. Patrick’s Day and of Ireland is the green shamrock. Faced with the English domination of the 17th century, wearing the shamrock was a way for the Irish to show their discontent. It was a symbol of emerging Irish nationalism. This plant was very sacred because it symbolized the rebirth of spring and was also used as an Irish symbol for the trinity. Today it is associated with Irish heritage.
Traditional Meals and Alcohol
People traditionally drink beer on St. Patrick’s Day, including Guinness and other Irish drafts. It’s a day where it is common binge drink and party. This is due to the story of Saint Patrick who brought beer to Ireland. It is estimated that globally, up to 13 million pints of Guinness are consumed on St. Patrick’s Day compared to 5.5 million on an average day! With a pint of beer, people take advantage of St. Patrick’s Day to enjoy traditional Irish meals often based on bacon and Irish cabbage but also corned beef, which is very popular for St. Patrick’s Day.
Following the conquest of the English, Irish music took on an important traditional connotation as it was used during this time to remember important events and to preserve the heritage and history of Ireland. Music has therefore always been an important part of Irish life especially since the ancient times of the Celts. St. Patrick’s Day hosts bands and concerts to liven up the festival.
Saint Patrick’s Day Clothes
On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone dresses up in green, disguises themselves as Leprechaun or even as Saint Patrick himself. In addition, the phrase “Kiss me, I’m Irish” is very popular on Saint Patrick’s Day because it comes from the Legend of the Blarney Stone, the stone of eloquence. This legend says that the stone brings a special gift and good luck to the one who kisses it. This expression is therefore very common on St. Patrick’s Day on t-shirts and posters in the streets. Read more Irish stories and Irish history throughout this site.