On March 17th, St Patrick’s Day is celebrated internationally across the English speaking world. Originally an Irish feast day, it has spread to major cities across the world as people of all cultures take part in a celebration of all things Irish. Here’s a brief explanation of where St Patrick’s Day comes from and what is done to celebrate it.
Why it’s Called St Patrick’s Day
St Patrick’s Day is the saint’s day commemorating St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. St Patrick was a 5th-century missionary and bishop who reportedly took up a life of preaching Christianity in Ireland after being kidnapped and taken there as a child. He became linked to Irish culture and symbolism through stories such as his use of the shamrock (a 3-leafed plant associated with Ireland) to explain the Holy Trinity – traditions which may have relatively recent roots but that intertwine his history with religious and cultural significance. The feast is celebrated on March 17th because it is thought to be the date St Patrick Died.
St Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in Ireland. Though it is not a holiday in other parts of the world, it is still widely celebrated and streets may be closed, with street parties and parades taking place. This is because many people emigrated from Ireland in the 19th and 20th Century, to other English-speaking parts of the world such as the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK, popularising the tradition (which has been further popularised through commercial interests, such as drinks promotions).
How St Patrick’s Day is Celebrated
The feast day is celebrated internationally with parties that celebrate Irish tradition. The colour green is particularly used, with people wearing green clothing, eating food dyed green, and even (in places like Chicago) even dying rivers green. Children have sweets and may adults drink alcohol – with particular emphasis on the Irish stout, Guinness. Guinness have, in fact, very much commercialised the holiday, running various promotions to share their drink and products.
Irish pubs and restaurants are popular locations to visit, while other traditional pubs and bars across the world tend to run Irish themes, promoting Irish food and drink, such as steak and Guinness pies, Irish coffee and Irish stew.
On the religious side of the holiday, some people make a pilgrimage to St Patrick’s Purgatory, a location in County Donegal, Ireland, that is thought to have healing powers. The site is thought to be where St Patrick had a holy vision, encouraging people to visit to have sins forgiven.
In addition to green and the shamrock being evident on St Patrick’s day, religious symbols used also include snakes and serpents and the Celtic cross (a symbol some say was St Patrick was partly responsible for). Other Irish symbols that you may see include the harp and the mythological small man known as the leprechaun (and the leprechaun’s magical pot of gold).