Every year in March, we don our leprechaun hats, green clothing, and cheers to our heart’s content in celebration of Saint Patrick. This begs a question, however, about what it is everyone’s celebrating. If you’re curious to know more, here’s a bit of history about the holiday. 

Who was Saint Patrick?

Saint Patrick was born to Roman citizens in Britain (you read that correctly) and was a Catholic missionary responsible for the introduction of Christianity into Ireland. By the time of his death in the year 461, he had established hundreds of centers for Christian learning and preaching, and was canonized as a Saint by the Catholic Church.

How Saint Patrick was connected to Ireland.

Saint Patrick was made the patron saint of Ireland because of his contribution to the nation’s history. However, the association of his feast day with a celebration of Ireland is due to the political foothold the Irish had in many major American cities, with more Irish living in New York City than in Dublin by 1860, according to Ancestry. These people held large celebrations of Ireland, as noted by Encyclopedia Britannica, as a way to drive tourism. Not much has changed, apparently.

What about all the green?

Well, canonically, Saint Patrick wore blue. The color green is more closely associated with the national colors of Ireland and the color of the shamrock clover. Speaking of shamrocks…

The reasoning behind the shamrock.

In the Christian faith, God is typically represented in three: The father, the son, and the holy spirit, as broken down by the BBC. The myth of the shamrock is recounted as Saint Patrick using the 3-leaf shamrock clover native to Ireland to explain the heads of the holy Trinity to his converts, and was therefore later chosen as Ireland’s national symbol.

Why do we drink in celebration?

This one’s rather amusing, seeing as Saint Patrick’s Day was a dry, religious holiday in Ireland from 1903 to 1970, according to the Catholic Church. Drinking mainly took off as a celebratory act because of the holiday’s status as a feast day.

In the United States, though, this was blown up to American proportions to the point that at early Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in New York, newspapers portrayed the reveling Irish as a bunch of drunkards. Cheers!

 

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