A Spotlight on St. Patrick’s Day

Shamrocks, parades, and leprechauns. These are all things associated with the widely celebrated holiday, St. Patrick’s Day. But the real history behind it goes beyond these famous symbols.


St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish holiday celebrated annually on March 17, the anniversary of Saint Patrick’s supposed death. This day has been sacred to the Irish for over 1,000 years. 


People in Ireland have been observing the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick on March 17 since the ninth or tenth century. Because it fell in the middle of lent, people have been using it as an excuse to celebrate and take a break from the abstinence of the period leading up to Easter. People would drink, dance, and feast on the traditional meat of Irish bacon and cabbage.


Saint Patrick, who lived in the fifth century, is the patron saint of Ireland. He was born in Roman Britain and at age 16, was captured by Irish raiders and sent as a slave to present-day Northern Ireland. There, he became a shepherd and grew close to his Christian faith. He eventually escaped, but returned to Ireland and was credited with bringing Christianity to its people.


In the centuries following Saint Patrick’s death, a legend surfaced that said he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of a native Irish clover: the shamrock. 


St. Patrick’s day in America became popular after the Great Potato Famine hit Ireland in 1845. Because of the famine, close to 1 million poor and uneducated Irish Catholics began pouring into America to escape starvation. Most Americans despised the Irish because of their unfamiliar religion and accents, which made it hard for them to find jobs. When Irish Americans took to the streets to celebrate their heritage, the newspapers negatively portrayed them. They later realized that their growing population endowed them with a political power that had yet to be exploited. Soon, annual St. Patrick’s Day parades became a show of strength for Irish Americans.


Today, the biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations within the US can be found in Chicago, Savannah (Goergia), New York City, and Boston.