It’s easy to understand that St. Patrick’s Day observes the death of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Worldwide, we celebrate this holiday with parades, special foods, music, dancing, drinking, and a whole lot of green. However, there is much more to know about the history of St. Patrick and this special holiday that honors his passing.
Since around the ninth or 10th century, people in Ireland have been observing the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick on March 17. It’s more of a worldwide celebration that has occurred for centuries, including the first St. Patrick’s Day parade held on March 17, 1601 in a Spanish colony in what is now St. Augustine, Florida. The parade, and a St. Patrick’s Day celebration a year earlier were organized by the Spanish colony’s Irish vicar Ricardo Artur.
Much later, homesick Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched in New York City on March 17, 1772 in honor of St. Patrick. After seeing this, the love of St. Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations grew across many American cities.
Officially, St. Patrick’s Day celebrates the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. This has been an Irish religious holiday for over 1,000 years. On St. Patrick’s Day, during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.
So, who was St. Patrick? St. Patrick lived during the fifth century and was the patron saint of Ireland and its national apostle. Born in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16. He later escaped, but returned to Ireland and was credited with bringing Christianity to its people.
His death was believed to have been on March 17, 461, the mythology surrounding his life became ever more ingrained in the Irish culture: Perhaps the most well-known legend of St. Patrick is that he explained the Holy Trinity using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock.