Every year on March 17, many Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by drinking green beer, wearing green and listening to traditional Irish music. But how much do you really know about St. Patrick? Here’s a brief history of Patrick, and how the holiday is celebrated in Ireland.
Saint Patrick's Day, also known as the Feast of Saint Patrick, St. Patrick's Day, Lá Fheile Pádraig (Gaelic) and St. Paddy’s Day, was made an official Christian feast day in the early 17th century, and is observed by the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Church of Ireland, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and celebrates the culture and heritage of the Irish.
Much of what is known about Saint Patrick comes from his own written history, called the Declaration. Patrick was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century to a wealthy Romano-British family. At the age of 16, he is said to have been kidnapped by Irish raiders, and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland, where he spent six years working as a shepherd. During his enslavement, God told Patrick to flee to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him back to his home.
Patrick’s Call to Conversion
As his legend has it, Patrick decided to become a priest upon his return home, spending many years evangelizing in the northern half of Ireland, where he is thought to have converted thousands to Christianity.
Fifteen years later, Patrick was ordained as a priest, and was sent to Ireland to teach and convert the “pagan” Irish to Christianity. He is said to have died on March 17, and was buried in County Down, Northern Ireland.
Families in Ireland have been celebrating the Feast of Saint Patrick for hundreds of years. Unlike the commemoration Americans enjoy, Irish Catholics treats the holiday much like our Thanksgiving celebration, with families coming together to attend church and break bread. The date is a public celebration in Protestant Northern Ireland, but it is not a “Bank Holiday.”
The first St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S. was held in New York City on March 17, 1762. Today, one of the largest parades in the world that commemorates the date is held in Savannah, Ga.