St. Patrick's Day Traditions

Origins. St. Patrick was actually born in Wales, not in Ireland, under the name Maewyn. Initially a pagan, he ended up as bishop of Ireland with subsequent sainthood only after a long, arduous road. This journey started with being sold into slavery where he eventually found his faith. St. Patrick's Day traditions can be as muddled as the beginnings of this saint's life.

Common observance. While initially a Catholic sacred observation of religious significance, St. Patrick's Day has turned into a world-wide celebration of everything green. From drinking lime-colored beer to dyeing rivers in the colors of the Emerald Isle, people turn into green fiends on St. Patrick's Day. Many still pinch others who do not wear green, but the genuine traditions are about something else.

The shamrock. The most conventional item of St. Patrick's Day is the shamrock. While shamrocks are not unique to Ireland and grow all over Europe, they do bear a great significance in relation to this holiday. St. Patrick used the three-leafed clover to explain the Trinity to the simple folks of his time. The three leaves perfectly illustrated how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could exist separately, yet were part of the same divine entity. The first time people adorned themselves with shamrocks was in 1737 at the first public St. Patrick's Day celebration in Boston.

Parades. On March 17, 1762, the first annual St. Patrick's Day parade was held in New York City by Irish soldiers who were fighting in the U.S. Revolutionary War. This parade has grown to be the largest one anywhere, with over 250,000 marchers and 2 million spectators. Ironically, if March 17th falls on a Sunday in any given year, the parade is held on the day prior because of religious conflicts.

Evolution. Up until the 1970s, St. Patrick's Day was a religious holiday in Ireland and commemorated by priests. Then, St. Patrick's Day was celebrated in relatively minor fashion by families with a holiday meal. While the wearing of shamrocks and holding parades are still observed as the most established St. Patrick's Day traditions, this holiday has evolved into combining the upcoming arrival of spring with parties all over the United States.

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Check out a brief St. Patrick's Day history to understand why we celebrate as the Irish do.

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