St. Patrick’s Day

By Betzaira Ruiz


St. Patrick’s Day is a Roman Catholic celebration that honors the patron saint of Ireland. Much of Patrick’s life has now been shrouded in myth and legend and it is hard to separate these from historical facts. Most of the information about Patrick comes from two short works; the Confessio, a spiritual autobiography, and his Letter to Coroticus, in which he denunciates the British mistreatment of Irish Christians. What we do know is that Patrick was born in Britain and that his birth name was not actually Patrick. There are some sources that list his birth name as Maewyn Succat and it is believed that the name Patrick was taken on later during his religious journeys. At the age of 16 he was kidnapped by Irish pirates, brought to Ireland, and sold into slavery. He worked as a herdsman for six years and during this time he turned to Christianity for comfort and support. Patrick eventually escaped, claiming he dreamt of a ship that would carry him to freedom, and reunited with his family in Britain. A passage from the Confessio tells of a dream he had after his return to Britain in which he heard the voice of the Irish people calling him to come back to Ireland. After more than 15 years of training, Patrick was ordained as a bishop and returned to Ireland with the dual mission to minister to the small number of Christians already living there and to convert the Irish people. It is believed that his missionary career took place in the second half of the 5th century and during this time he incorporated traditional Irish rituals into his lessons of Christianity. People now celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, which some people cite as the day of his death. He is also known as the sixth oldest Saint in the world and is seen as the spiritual protector of Ireland. One popular legend is that St. Patrick drove out all the snakes from Ireland. In reality snakes have not lived in Ireland for years due to the climate, but it is a small, fun legend people like to tell.


The shamrock/clover has become an important symbol in connection with St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish name for the plant is seamróg, which is the diminutive of the Irish word seamair óg, and simply means “young clover”. It is sacred to Ireland because it symbolizes rebirth. There is a legend that St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach about the Holy Trinity, with the three leaves of the clover representing the father, son, and spirit. Many Irish started to wear the shamrock as a symbol of pride for their history, culture, and heritage. They also started to wear it because of their displeasure with English rule.

Another common symbol is the color green. The original color used to be blue, but it changed to green because it was associated with the Nationalist movement against the English in the 1600s and it represented Ireland’s green land. Green also became more prevalent as green-colored symbols like the shamrock and the leprechaun became associated with St. Patrick’s Day. Wearing green is supposed to prevent you from getting pinched by a leprechaun because you become invisible to them.

The leprechaun has become linked to St. Patrick’s Day, even though they have their own holiday on May 13. Historians generally agree that the leprechaun is an amalgamation of various fairies from Irish folklore. Some researchers claim that their main vocation was shoemaking. They are most famous for being tricksters, greedily hoarding their gold and keeping it from others. Legend also says if you capture a leprechaun, they can grant you wishes, but those wishes tend to backfire.

Music has been at the heart of the celebration because music helped the Irish hold onto their heritage and history when the English took over. The most popular instruments are the fiddle, uilleann pipes, tin whistle, and the bodhran.

The most popular food served during this day is corn beef and cabbage. This dish has become very well-known because when many of the Irish people migrated over during the 18th century, they were poor and they did not have much money to celebrate this day. Families would serve this dish and it soon became a tradition for many generations to come.

Today’s Celebration:

Today during St. Patrick’s Day, many Irish go to Church in the morning as part of the celebration. It has become a tradition to wear green and in Chicago the river has been dyed green to honor St. Patrick since 1962. The celebration first started in the United States due to the high Irish population that migrated to Chicago over the years. In 1840, the Irish presence increased in America due to the potato famine that took place in Ireland. In the 18th century the first St. Patrick’s day parade was held by Irish Soldiers that fought in the Revolutionary War. Today, New York holds the largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the whole world, with 200,000 participants and with 3 million spectators every year.

The following are a few facts about the Irish people in the United States. 22 United States’ presidents have Irish roots. Also, about 190,000 Irish soldiers fought during the Civil War and today about 34 million Americans claim to have some sort of Irish ancestry. As a result, about 16 cities in the United States have been named Dublin, after Ireland’s capital. Though it started off as a religious celebration, St. Patrick’s Day has become more secularized and today many Americans, regardless of their faith and heritage, still take part in the celebration and enjoy their time with friends and families.



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