The Unique History of St. Patrick's Day
Also known as the Feast of St. Patrick, St. Patrick's Day celebrates the death of St. Patrick and is held on March 17 annually with parades and celebrations across the globe. The celebration became an official Christian feast in the seventeenth century and commemorates the arrival of Christianity in Ireland as well as the traditions, heritage, and distinct culture of the island. It has also become a widely popular celebration among Irish-American immigrants with established communities in major towns and cities across America.
Common symbols associated with St Patrick's Day are the color green and the iconic shamrock, which has become a central theme for some of the most recognizable professional sports teams in the United States, like the Boston Celtics. Historically St. Patrick's Day also marked a celebration as the Church lifted Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking. This made the consumption of alcohol one of the primary ways that celebrants enjoyed the day.
What is St. Patrick's day can be a tough question to answer definitively as the celebration can vary from rambunctious to religious and has no defined way to enjoy the day. While parades remain one of the more vibrant public celebrations, St. Patrick's Day festivities also include private parties, and banquets, though these were more popular in the past and less common today.
Much of what is known about St. Patrick comes from a document that he is believed to have written himself. He was born in the fourth century in Roman Britain to a wealthy family and would go on to become a Priest and journey to Ireland to convert native populations from their pagan beliefs.
His legend developed to include driving snakes off of the island, though it has been noted that the absence of snakes on the island is due to several events during the ice age that made it inhospitable for snakes.
St. Patrick claims to have been kidnapped at the age of sixteen and taken to Ireland, where he was forced into slavery. It was during this time that he found God and began his path of evangelism. St. Patrick is said to be buried at Downpatrick in Northern Ireland.
St. Patrick is often depicted holding a shamrock in one hand and a cross in the other while wearing traditional Christian clothing.
Gaelic Ireland had been established by the 1st century AD, and in the twelfth century, the island was invaded by Anglo-Normans and came under British rule. The Acts of Union of 1801 officially brought Ireland into Great Britain as British colonialism spread across the globe. Ireland's rich history and culture have had a significant influence on the western world, particularly in literature and music.
Irish poetry is among the oldest traditions in history and remains, and poetry in Gaelic remains a studied topic by historians. By the seventeenth century, the English language had been popularized, and many Irish writers wrote in English. Jonathan Swift is considered the father of English satire, and other notable twentieth-century authors include James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and William Butler Yeats. Joyce is regarded as one of the most significant writers of the modern era, and his novel Ulysses is considered a masterpiece.
There's evidence of music in Ireland since prehistoric times, and traditional Irish music and dance became popular across the globe starting in the 1960s. There are also sites that feature Neolithic carvings with considerable value for archaeologists, including Newgrange in County Meath.
While St. Patrick's Day has its roots in Irish history, the celebrations occur globally and are often more prominent in immigrant communities around the world. Celebrations in Ireland also feature Seachtain na Gaeilge, which starts on March 1 and lasts until St. Patrick's Day on March 17. This translates to Irish Language Week and celebrates traditional Irish speech.
Another Irish tradition is wetting the shamrock, where a clover leaf is placed into the bottom of a cup which is then filled with Irish whisky, local beer, or homemade cider and then consumed in a tribute to St. Patrick. After the toast is made, the shamrock will either be swallowed or tossed over the left shoulder for good luck.
Many practicing Christians also attend church services to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. In recent years iconic Irish landmarks have started lighting themselves with green lights to commemorate St. Patrick's Day, and this has spread around the world to places such as the Sydney Opera House and the Sky Tower in Auckland, New Zealand.
Historical lore holds that St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity, which is the reason it has become the iconic symbol for the celebrations. Wearing a Celtic Christian Cross was often a traditional way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day though the tradition has fallen out of favor in the twentieth century. Catholics and Protestants both celebrate St. Patrick's Day, as well as non-secular participants who celebrate Irish heritage, culture, and history.
St. Patrick's Day has also become a significant opportunity for Irish federal officials to promote the island and its distinct culture. Drinking Guinness is also another way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
One of the central celebrations in America is the St. Patrick's Day Parade which began in the Eighteenth Century in Irish communities across the nation before eventually spreading back to Ireland, where it has become a popular tradition. Due to the large influx of Irish immigrants to the United States during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that, established neighborhoods and communities in major cities like Boston, Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia celebrating St. Patrick's Day has become a cornerstone of these populations.
Some of the most iconic moments of St. Patricks Day in the United States include Chicago dying the river green, and St. Patrick's Day has been celebrated in some form since 1601.
New York City has held a St. Patrick's Day Parade for 250 consecutive years until 2020, when concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19 caused local officials to cancel the parade. The New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade remains one of the most iconic festivals as well as the largest in the world. It is an elaborate display with participants drinking green beer and celebrating Irish heritage and traditions.
Early American celebrations are believed to have officially started in Boston in 1737 when two dozen Irish immigrants gathered to mark the occasion. However, many early American cities claim to have held the first celebrations.
Many of the modern traditions and celebrations trace their roots to early American history, where Irish immigrants celebrated their distinct cultural heritage and history.
These became associated with St. Patrick's Day celebrations and spread across the globe and back to Ireland, where they remain to this day. IN 1903 St. Patrick's Day officially became a holiday in Ireland, with the first official state-sponsored parade held in Dublin in 1931.
The holiday is also popular in England as celebrants honor members of the Irish Guard who serve as a battalion in the English Army. Since 2012 the Duchess of Cambridge has presented a bowl of shamrocks to the Irish Guard, and now fresh shamrocks are presented to Irish Guards no matter where they are stationed around the world. Birmingham, England, holds Britain's largest parade, which stretches over two miles through the city center and claims to be the third largest in the world after New York City and Dublin.
Manchester, England, holds a two-week celebration of all things Irish, including an Irish market in the city center.
Irish pubs are iconic staples in cities across the globe and often host large celebrations to allow people of any heritage to join in on the festivities. Glasgow, Scotland, had a large number of Irish citizens immigrate to the city during the nineteenth century and has held a parade since 2007. When is St. Patrick's Day is a common question as March approaches, and it always falls on March 17.
Some people wonder why do we celebrate St. Patrick's Day in America so predominantly, and the reason is because of the vast amount of Irish immigrants that have become an essential part of American culture and history.
In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, check out Historic Print's vintage map and poster prints of Ireland.
Image Source: Historic Prints - 1797 Ireland Map Poster
Image Source: Historic Prints - 1797 Dublin Ireland Map Print
Image Source: Historic Prints - 1950 Travel to Ireland the Easy Way Poster Print
As they say in Ireland;
"Saint Patrick was a gentleman
Who, through strategy and stealth,
Drove all the snakes from Ireland--
Here's a bumper to his health,
But not too many bumpers,
Less we lose ourselves and then
Forget the good St. Patrick
And see the snakes again!"
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