A Brief History Of St. Patrick’s Day

It’s that time of year again, the time when green is everywhere. Yep, you guessed it it’s time for St. Patrick’s Day. 

As a kid I never wondered why we celebrated this particular holiday. When I got a little older I took the opportunity to look into the origins and history of the holiday. Now with my craft based business, I find myself interested in the history of the color green.

I have amassed a plethora of information, so to help keep things organized I’ll be breaking it into several smaller posts. 

What Is St.Patrick’s Day?

Saint Patrick’s Day is also known as The Feast of Saint Patrick and occurs on the 17th of March. This date is considered the traditional date of death of Saint Patrick, who is the patron saint of Ireland. 

While many know of St. Patrick’s Day as a cultural holiday, it was officially a Christian feast day and holiday in the early 17th century. The feast day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. 

So, Who Is Saint Patrick?

Patrick was a Christian missionary in the 5th century and a bishop in Ireland. Much of what we know about Saint Patrick is from the Declaration, a book written about Saint Patrick, allegedly by Saint Patrick (although he wasn’t a Saint at the time). 

Saint Patrick And His Burial Place

It’s believed that he was born in Britain to a wealthy Romano-British family and then kidnapped by Irish raiders. He was then taken to Gaelic Ireland as a slave. He spent 6 years as a shepherd before finding God. Using instructions he received in dreams and visions from God he escaped back home where he became a priest. Patrick then returned to Ireland as a missionary to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. When he became a priest he actually changed his name to Patricius (Patrick), which derives from the Latin for “father figure”, his real name was Maewyn Succat.

You may have heard the story of Patrick driving all the snakes from Ireland. This is an allegory to his efforts to drive the druids out of the country, since snakes are not native to the area. Legend says that Patrick died on the 17th of March and was buried at Downpatrick. Downpatrick holds week long celebrations in his honor and has become a pilgrimage site for Saint Patrick.

Early Celebrations

Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival. The world’s first recorded St. Patrick’s Day celebration was in St. Augustine, Florida in the year 1600 and the first parade dedicated to the holiday was held in 1601. Both the celebration and parade were organized by the Spanish Colony’s Irish vicar Ricardo Artur (Richard Arthur).

General Washington's Letter Granting His Troops A Holiday For March 17th

In 1771 the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick held the largest documented St. Patrick’s Day Celebration in Philadelphia (until modern times). The celebration was founded to help provide relief to Irish immigrants in the city. General George Washington was a member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and used his membership to actively encourage Irish American patriots to join the fledgling Continental Army. During the Revolutionary War, General Washington  allowed his troops to have March 17th as a holiday “as an act of solidarity with the Irish in their fight for independence”. This event, which later became known as “The Saint Patrick’s Day Encampment of 1780”, led to a swell in Irish enlistment.

Celebrations In Ireland

Over the years more and more cities and countries celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with parades, festivals, céilís, and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. Parades and other such wide-spread celebrations of Irish culture began in the United States in the 18th century and did not happen in Ireland until the 20th century.

Early St. Patrick's Day Parade

It wasn’t until 1903 that St. Patrick’s Day became an official holiday in Ireland. That same year the first official parade was held in Waterford. The week of the parade was also declared Irish Language Week, and the tradition has continued to this day. In 1931 the first official state-sponsored parade in honor of the holiday took place in Dublin. The parade has only been cancelled twice in its long history. Once in 2001 (although they held a parade in May to make up for the cancellation) and once in 2020.

Modern Celebrations

Since 1991, March has been declared as Irish-American Heritage Month by the President and Congress of the United States of America due to the existence of St. Patrick’s Day. Modern celebrations are more focused on the parades, informal gatherings, and parties. You’ll see revelers wearing green, wearing shamrocks, eating corned beef and cabbage, and drinking green beverages

White House Fountain Dyed Green For St. Patrick's Day

In March, Irish Government Ministers travel around the world to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and promote Ireland. The Irish Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) meets with the U.S. President every year on St. Patrick’s Day to present him with a bowl of shamrocks. This tradition started in 1952 when the Irish Ambassador sent a box of shamrocks to President Harry S. Truman.

For more detail on the traditions around this holiday, be sure to check out my next post Why Do We Wear Green For St. Patrick’s Day.  As well as my post Celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day, The History Behind The Traditions.

Chicago Dyes The River Green For Saint Patrick's Day

Seattle (and many other cities) paint the traffic stripe of the parade route green, and Chicago takes it a step further by using a vegetable based dye to turn the river green. Indianapolis dyes its main canel green while Savannah dyes its downtown city fountains green. The northern White House fountain has been dyed green for Saint Patrick’s Day every year since 2009. Over 300 landmarks around the world “go green” for St. Patrick’s Day.

Criticism

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have been criticised for their association with public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and negative Irish stereotypes. It’s interesting to note that up until the 1970’s bars were closed on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland due to a series of laws denoting this as a religious holiday and not the cultural celebration that we know today. Many people have also argued that the holiday has become too tacky and commercialised, straying from the original origins of the holiday.

As with any holiday or cultural celebration it’s important to consider the history behind it when choosing to celebrate. Many pagans dislike the holiday due to its history of conversion, yet they still celebrate the aspects that show appreciation for Irish culture. Ultimately modern celebrations around holidays are an appreciation of family, food, and cultural heritage. Be that our own heritage or that of others.  

More Information On St. Patrick’s Day

If you would like to read more about St. Patrick’s Day, check out these other blog posts:

For an amazing recipe for a Saint Patrick’s Day beverage, check out this link:

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