When you think of St. Patrick’s Day, you probably think of green beer, shot glass necklaces that say “Kiss Me I’m Irish,” and everybody talking about how Irish they suddenly are. That’s all well and good, but I bet you don’t know much about the holiday’s origins, or the saint it celebrates. Well, take off that stupid hat, stop talking like a leprechaun for a second, and educate yourself a smidge.
St. Patrick, considered the patron saint of Ireland, was actually born in Banna Venta Berniae, a town in Roman Britain (which now lies in the Northamptonshire region of England) sometime in the late 300s AD. That’s right, Patrick wasn’t Irish. And his name wasn’t Patrick either—it was Maewyn Succat, but he didn’t care for that so he chose to be known as Patricius down the line. He actually had many monikers throughout his life: he was known by many as Magonus, by others as Succetus, and to some as Cothirthiacus. But we’ll just call him Patrick since everybody else does. Has a nice ring to it…
His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon in the early Christian church, but Patrick wasn’t much of a believer himself. It wasn’t until he was captured by Irish pirates at the age of 16 and enslaved for six years as a shepherd that he chose to convert to Christianity. While in northeastern Ireland, Patrick learned the Irish language and culture before attempting to escape back to Britain. But Patrick wasn’t very good at escaping apparently, because he was captured again. This time by the French. He was held in France where he learned all about monasticism before he was released and sent home to Britain where he continued to study Christianity well into his twenties. Eventually, Patrick claimed he had a vision that told him to bring Christianity to the Irish people, who were predominantly pagan and druidic at the time, so Patrick he made his way back to Ireland and brought a big ol’ bag of Christianity with him.
When Patrick arrived back in Ireland, however, he and his preaching ways were not welcomed, so he had to leave and land on some small islands off the coast. There he began to gain followers, and he eventually moved to the mainland to spread Christian ideologies across Ireland for many years to come. During this time, Patrick baptized thousands of people (some say 100,000), ordained new priests, guided women to nunhood, converted the sons of kings in the region, and aided in the formation of over 300 churches.
Folklore also tells of Patrick banishing all the snakes from Ireland, but as badass as that may sound, there were never actually any snakes on the island to begin with. Lame, I know. But Patrick may be the one responsible for popularizing the shamrock, or that three-leafed plant you’ll see plastered all over the place today. According to legend, Patrick used it to teach the Irish the concept of the Christian Holy Trinity. They already had triple deities and regarded the number three highly, so Patrick’s use of the shamrock may have helped him win a great deal of favor with the Irish.
These days, Patricius is known to most as Saint Patrick. Though he’s not technically a canonized saint by the Catholic Church, he’s well-regarded throughout the Christian world. But why the holiday? Why always March 17? What’s with the green? And why do we think of a non-Irish, non-snake charmer as a symbol of Ireland?
St. Paddy’s Day started as a religious celebration in the 17th century to commemorate the life of Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. This “Feast Day” always took place on the anniversary of Patrick’s death, which was believed to be March 17, 461 AD. In the early 18th century, Irish immigrants brought the tradition over to the American colonies, and it was there that Saint Patrick started to become the symbol of Irish heritage and culture that he is today. As more Irish came across the Atlantic, the Feast Day celebration slowly grew in popularity. So much so, in fact, the first ever St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston in 1737.
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SOURCE: Patrick Allan