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Origins of St. Patrick's Day

Updated on January 2, 2015
Dublin Parade
Dublin Parade

So what exactly are the origins of St. Patrick's Day? First we must look at who originally inspired the observance of St. Patrick's Day before we look at how the holiday came about and why we hold the traditions we do today. Before St. Patrick's Day became a day parties, parades, and all things green, it was originally observe to honor Saint Patrick. So who was this Saint Patrick?

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Saint Patrick was born at Dumbarton in Scotland, in the year 387. He was named Maewyn Succat. It wasn't until he became a priest, did he take on the name Patrick. He is the son of Calphurnius and Conchessa. His father was a Roman of high rank and held the office of decurio, which is like a senate member, in Gaul or Britain. His mother was a relative of the great patron of Gaul, St. Martin of Tours.

When St. Patrick was about 16 years old, he was taken into captivity by Irish marauders. He was then sold as a slave to Milchu, a Druid High Priest in Dalriada. Dalriada was a territory of the present county of Antrim in Ireland. For six years, he tended his master's flocks in the valley of the Braid and on the slopes of Slemish, which is close to the modern town of Ballymena. During this time in slavery, he prayed many times a day and his faith became stronger. The six years he spent in captivity was a preparation time for his future apostolate. Since his master was a Druid High Priest, he became fluent in their language and traditions.

After six years of slavery, he fled towards the west upon the advice of an angel. After a few days, he found himself back in Britain. He had decided to devote himself to God. He had decided to put himself under the guidance of a great bishop named St. Germain and a few years later St. Patrick was promoted to priesthood. He and his bishop mentor set out on missionary work to combat against heresy and paganism. Upon St. Germain's council, Pope St. Celestine I entrusted the mission of bringing the Irish to know Christ in the summer months of 433.

St. Patrick
St. Patrick

St. Patrick is said to have performed several miracles in Ireland. One of which was when he came across a chieftain, Dichu. Dichu raised his sword to strike down St. Patrick, but his arm stiffened and was unable to do so. After his arm turned back to normal, Dichu converted over to Christianity. Dichu even built a monastery on his land.

In 433, Dichu invited St. Patrick to a special pagan Easter celebration. St. Patrick used this opportunity to preach not only to several chieftains, but the king himself. In this celebration, he picked a shamrock from the ground. He went on to explain that the shamrock's three petals represented the Trinity.

Another miracle that is legend that he performed was banishing all snakes from Ireland. Some believe that this is just a metaphor, since the pagan symbol of the time was a snake. Others believe the story to be literal. It is said that St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland by planting shamrocks. It is a known fact that shamrocks can be used as a remedy for snake venom. It is also known around the world that snakes won't go near fields of shamrocks. Yes, it is true that Ireland doesn't have any snakes.

St. Patrick had somehow negotiated himself out of several arrests throughout Ireland. He also, seemed to miss death on several occasions. This allowed him to continue his ministry in Ireland and ordained countless numbers of priest and consecrating at least 350 bishops. He is also credited with healing the sick and even bringing the dead back to life. He was able to fulfill his mission to triumph over paganism with Christianity.

When St. Patrick's death was near, St. Tassach administered the last sacraments to him on March 17, 493. He was then wrapped in a shroud woven by St. Brigid's own hands. He was buried at the chieftain's Dun or Fort two miles from Saul, where the Cathedral of Down was later erected.

So, when did we start celebrating St. Patrick's Day? Well, St. Patrick's Day was originally celebrated as a religious holiday. This day almost always falls around the time of the Christian holiday of Lent. Although, it is generally celebrated on March 17th , the Catholic Church has some guidelines to follow. If the holiday falls on a Sunday, it isn't celebrated until that Monday following. If the date occurs during a holy week, it will be celebrated at the next available date. In fact, in 2008, it will be observed as a religious holiday on March 15th because March 17th falls within Easter week, also known as Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

The very first St. Patrick's Day celebration wasn't even celebrated in Ireland or Britain. There seems to be some disagreements on who had the first St. Patrick's Day Parade. Some say it was first celebrated in Boston, Massachusetts in the year 1737. The History Channel says it was New York City when Irish soldiers in the British army marched in a parade on March 17, 1762. Even those in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania say they have the first documented parade in Philadelphia celebrated St. Patrick's Day as early as 1771. Whichever city actually had it first, the fact still remains that St. Patrick's Day celebrations originated in the United States.

Over the years, it has increased in popularity. The first St. Patrick's Day parade held in the Irish Free State wasn't held in Dublin until 1931. In fact, 2007 marked the first annual parade and festival in the Scottish city of Glasgow. Even, before these dates, the holiday was celebrated in Canada, Australia, South America and other countries before the place that is the cause for celebration.

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St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, Kentucky Sponsored by the Bluegrass Irish SocietySt. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, Kentucky Sponsored by the Bluegrass Irish SocietySt. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, Kentucky Sponsored by the Bluegrass Irish SocietySt. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, KentuckySt. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, Kentucky Sponsored by the Bluegrass Irish Society
St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, Kentucky Sponsored by the Bluegrass Irish Society
St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, Kentucky Sponsored by the Bluegrass Irish Society | Source
St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, Kentucky Sponsored by the Bluegrass Irish Society
St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, Kentucky Sponsored by the Bluegrass Irish Society | Source
St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, Kentucky Sponsored by the Bluegrass Irish Society
St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, Kentucky Sponsored by the Bluegrass Irish Society | Source
St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, Kentucky
St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, Kentucky | Source
St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, Kentucky Sponsored by the Bluegrass Irish Society
St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in Lexington, Kentucky Sponsored by the Bluegrass Irish Society | Source

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Symbols and Traditions

Shamrock

So what about St. Patrick's Day symbols and traditions? The traditions vary from place to place. But there are some that stay constant, such as the shamrock. The term "shamrock", derives from the Irish word seamrog, which means "little clover". As I stated before, St. Patrick used a shamrock to represent the Trinity to the pagans. Many people wear a shamrock on this day to honor the Trinity.

Blarney Stone

From a secular view, there are traditions that are notable when using St. Patrick's Day to celebrate the Irish Heritage. Take the Blarney Stone for instance. The stone's has a connection to St. Patrick himself. However, in Irish tradition it is said that the Blarney stone has magical properties due to an old woman casting a spell on the stone to reward a king who had saved her from drowning. Kissing the stone gave the king the ability to speak sweetly and convincingly. The stone itself is located at Blarney Castle is located in County Cork, Ireland. The Blarney stone is located in the southern tower wall between the main castle wall and the parapet. If you want to kiss the stone you have to lie on your back and bend backward and downward, holding iron bars for support.

Leprechauns

What about the wee folk, you know, leprechauns? Well, according to Irish folklore, they are fairy folk that resemble a little old man. They stand about 2 feet tall. Their personality is described to be very unfriendly. They are also known to have a pot gold. It is said that if you hear a hammer pounding they are close by making shoes. To catch a leprechaun is tricky though. To capture one, you would have to threaten bodily harm yet you must be watchful of them because they will disappear on you the first chance they get.

The Color Green

The color green is also associated with the holiday. It probably started with the fact that it is associated with Ireland's rich green landscape. The color green is also associated with spring and represents hope and nature. It then evolved into a childhood tradition of getting pinched on St. Patrick's Day if you aren't wearing green.

Irish Foods

What about food traditions? Generally, corn beef and cabbage is prepared. Some also make Irish soda bread and other traditional Irish meals. Oh and we can't forget green beer. Many bars and pubs will add green food coloring to the beer on tap.

If you would prefer to stick with more traditional foods and drinks, you can find several recipes at the following links:

In conclusion, whether you celebrate St. Patrick's Day from a religious aspect or from a secular aspect, the holiday has evolved to honor Ireland's rich culture and traditions. In many countries, especially the United States, you don't even have to be Irish to celebrate the rich Irish heritage. It is a time to gather with friends and family to party and have a great time while honoring a vibrant culture that is steeped in traditions, folklore, food, and ale.

Your Feedback Matters

So how do you celebrate St. Patrick's Day? If you are from Ireland, what are your thought and feeling on how Americans and other countries celebrate St. Patrick's Day? Feel free to leave a comment and start respectful discussion on the origins and traditions of St. Patrick's Day.

© 2015 L Sarhan

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    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 2 years ago

      Now when I hear banging I can't figure out, I'll know it's the leprechauns. I wonder if they can replicate some Manolo Blahniks for me.

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