St. Patrick's Day is a fun holiday that almost everyone in the world loves to celebrate, regardless of ethnic background, but why do we celebrate this traditional Irish holiday? Who was Saint Patrick and what is the significance of shamrocks and "wearing green". Many holidays are celebrated every year without many of the participants knowing why we celebrate it, and St. Patrick's Day is no different. If you're wondering why we celebrate St. Patrick's Day, then you're in luck. I have always wondered as well, and now that I have the answers, I can share them with you!
Much like the history of Valentine's Day, the celebration of St. Patrick's day dates back to about 1500 years ago, when Ireland's most famous patron saint, Saint Patrick, passed away after a life of spreading the word of Christianity and doing, according to Saint Patrick himself, "God's work", and doing it quite well I might add.
The history of St. Patrick's Day is foggy and crowded with various wives tales, exaggerations, and myths. The story of Saint Patrick's life is not quite fully known. After filtering out all of the nonsense legends that have accumulated over many centuries, the story becomes a lot more simple. Saint Patrick was born around 385 AD to a set of wealthy parents in Britain. Not much is known about his mother, but his father is said to have been a Christian deacon. Some stories suggest that he was not doing this work out of good heart, but rather for the tax incentives that came with such a job.
Flash forward through about 16 years of unrecorded happenings in (not yet Saint) Patrick's life, and we find him taken prisoner in County Mayo (some sources claim it was in Mount Slemish) which was in Ireland. Patrick's estate had been attacked by a malicious group of Irish raiders and as a result, he was taken back to Ireland to be held captive for 6 long years. This is when Patrick began to see his life calling, as he was working alone all the time as a shepherd. Patrick's loneliness had begun to get the best of him as he started turning to God for companionship and religious solace. It is believed by many that this was the time in Patrick's life where he began his quest of converting the Irish locals to Christianity, and working his way up to Saint status.
After being held captive from around the age of 16 until he was 22, Patrick began to hear voices from God in his dreams that encouraged him to make an impressive escape. Patrick had to walk almost 200 miles from where he was being held captive, to the Irish coast where he could make his way back to Britain by boat. After getting back to Britain, Patrick received another message from God. This time, God needed Patrick to go back to Ireland and return as a missionary, so Patrick began his new calling in life by attending a 15 year study in Britain to earn his priesthood.
After becoming a full-fledged priest, Saint Patrick headed back to Ireland to perform his duties. He was actually sent back to Ireland for two reasons: to convert the Irish to Christianity; and to minister the Christians currently living in Ireland. As the story tells, he really was Ireland's biggest and most well-known patron saint.
Saint Patrick would often use things he learned about during his time in captivity in Ireland as metaphorical examples to the people he preached to. For instance, one of his favorite and most famously talked about methods was his use of the three-leaf clover, or shamrock. Saint Patrick would use this little Irish native weed to explain the Holy Trinity (the father, son, and holy ghost - each leaf representing a different one).
He used other tactics to get his teachings through to the native Irish as well. Saint Patrick was very smart how he went about his teachings, trying his best to incorporate Irish cultural references and symbols into his lessons. The Irish were known to celebrate holidays with bonfires quite often, and Saint Patrick used this to his advantage by having Easter celebrations with the people using bonfires.
The well-known Celtic Cross is also said to have originated from Saint Patrick's creative mind. His idea was to incorporate the sun (another aspect of fire that the Irish seemed to adore) into the traditional Christian Cross. By combining both the sun and the cross, he created what is now known as the Celtic Cross, still seen quite frequently in today's world.
The Celebration of St. Patrick's Day
Saint Patrick died around March 17, 461 A.D. It became a national day of feast for the Irish administered by the Catholic church a few centuries later, and has been religiously celebrated every year since. The holiday usually falls during Lent, and when it rarely happens to fall in the Holy Week close to Palm Sunday, the date will be changed to keep the two separate. This has happened a few times, most recently in 1940 where St. Patrick's Day was moved to April 3, and even just a few years ago in 2008 when it was brought back to March 15.
St. Patrick's Day is a bank holiday in Northern Ireland, and a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, though it is celebrated worldwide in many other countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Great Britain. Depending on where you go, St. Patrick's Day can be celebrated as a religious holiday, or simply a holiday to honor the Irish heritage and culture. St. Patrick's Day celebrations vary from large feasts incorporating many Christian themes, to the more traditional secular celebrations regardless of religion where people show their love of the Irish by wearing green, enjoying Irish food and drink, and attending fun parades.
Now that you know the history of why we celebrate St. Patrick's Day, why not share your new knowledge with someone else? See how many of your friends know about the history of this famous holiday. Personally, I think instead of getting a pinch for not wearing green on St. Patrick's Day, the new rule should be that you get pinched if you don't know why we celebrate St. Patrick's Day to begin with!