While it seems St. Patrick's Day has taken on a life of its own, few people in the U.S. really know the origin of the holiday. A modern celebration of St. Patrick's Day will most likely include a trip to the bar while wearing green clothes and clovers to show your spirit.
The holiday for most people is about drinking to excess but the true spirit of St. Patrick's Day has little to do with alcohol. The origin of the Irish holiday is to celebrate the work of St. Patrick who helped to convert the pagan religion of many native Irish people to Christianity.
Patrick is Ireland's patron saint and the holiday eventually became a way for Irish people in the U.S. to connect more with their roots after leaving their home country.
What St. Patrick Did in Ireland
Patrick, although he is the saint of Ireland, was actually born in Britain and was captured by Irish pagans in his early teens. He managed to escape and return to his family where he studied at monasteries and was ordained a priest and a bishop.
He was eventually commissioned to become an apostle to Ireland and returned to the pagans of the country to teach them about Christianity. Patrick traveled throughout Ireland, tearing down idols and temples while working to establish the Catholic Church in the country.
By AD 444 the first cathedral of Ireland was built and he began to baptize, confirm and ordain priests while erecting schools and monasteries. In less than 30 years, Patrick was able to convert the entire nation of Ireland from pagan to Catholic. After he died on March 17 AD 461, he was made the patron saint of Ireland.
The Evolution of St. Patrick's Day
Initially, St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Ireland were understated with a feast to mark the day of Patrick's passing. Eventually, Irish who immigrated to America continued to celebrate the holiday to stay connected with their heritage.
In early American times, eighteenth century Irish soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War held the first St. Patrick's Day parade to celebrate the holiday. An Irish American dish called corn beef and cabbage became a staple St. Patrick's Day meal because it was more affordable to the poorer Irish people living in the U.S.
The clover became a symbol for St. Patrick's Day because according to legend, Patrick used the three leaf clover or shamrock to explain the Trinity to those he was converting. While the holiday was originally a Catholic holy day it has evolved into a more secular celebration for people who are tracing back to their Irish roots.
Most people now are not honoring St. Patrick per se, but are celebrating Irish culture with symbols like the shamrock and the leprechaun – a Celtic fairy.
St. Patrick's Day has evolved over the years and become a bigger and bigger celebration especially for Irish Americans. Even many Americans with no Irish roots enjoy celebrating the holiday and taking on the Irish culture at least for a day.
While some people may not reflect on the real origin of St. Patrick's Day and simply use the holiday as an excuse to drink to excess, it is important to keep in mind that the day is about Irish culture and history. People with Irish roots can use St. Patrick's Day as a way to connect to the past and think about where they've come from.
The holiday has evolved dramatically but the Irish tradition will always be around to remind people of the culture of Ireland and the roots of Irish people living in America.