Saint Patrick’s Day is a holiday that celebrates the life of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. The holiday originated in Ireland in the 9th and 10th centuries, but its modern form has evolved over time.
The true history of Saint Patrick’s Day begins with Saint Patrick, who was born in Britain in the 4th century. (So, he was actually an Englishman.) At the age of 16, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and brought to Ireland as a slave. He later escaped and became a Christian priest.
In the years that followed, Saint Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary, spreading Christianity throughout the country. He is said to have used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the Irish people – although, botanists are divided on which species of clover exactly is a shamrock. (The word shamrock derives from the Irish seamróg, which is a diminutive of seamair óg meaning “young clover.”)
Regardless, during the eighteenth century, Irish people began donning shamrocks or clovers on their clothing on March 17th to show off their Christian pride. This practice eventually morphed into wearing green clothing, due to Ireland’s nickname “The Emerald Isle,” and later on, in the twentieth century, when the Irish Tricolour was made the official flag of the country. But, not everyone wears green. Protestants are known for wearing Orange, another color stripe on the flag.
It’s also said that Saint Patrick rid Ireland of snakes during the fifth century A.D. by chasing them into the sea after the reptiles began attacking him during a 40-day fast he undertook on top of a hill. However, there are no snakes in Ireland because it’s an island surrounded by water too cold for snakes to traverse from mainland Europe or even from England. The legend is thought to represent Saint Patrick cleansing Ireland of paganism.
After Saint Patrick’s death on March 17th, 461 AD, the day was commemorated as Saint Patrick’s Day. The holiday remained primarily a religious observance in Ireland for many years, with churches holding special services and the Irish people attending mass.
In the late 18th century, the holiday began to take on a more secular tone, with parades and other celebrations taking place in cities like Dublin and New York. The very first Saint Patrick’s Day parade occurred in the United States (not in Ireland), taking place in New York City in 1762, with the tradition continuing to this day.
The holiday gained even more popularity in the mid to late nineteenth century, after the Great Potato Famine, which began in 1845, caused many Irish to flee their country and immigrate to the United States.
Today, Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world as a day to celebrate Irish culture and heritage. Parades, festivals, and other celebrations take place in many countries, and people often wear green and consume traditional Irish food and drink, such as corned beef and cabbage and Guinness beer.