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Exploring the origins of Saint Patrick's Day

McKenzie Nelson, Features Editor

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St. Patrick’s Day is now a day of green, of leprechauns, and of luck. Today, we have all but forgotten the roots and reasons of the holiday. It all started when Saint Patrick went to Ireland.

At the age of 16, Saint Patrick arrived in Ireland for the first time as a slave. For some time, slavery drove the Irish economy. It was during one of the raids in England that Patrick was kidnapped and taken to Ireland. Once he had escaped, he went back to Britain only to decide to return to Ireland, this time with the goal of spreading Christianity.

He worked his way up and became the National Apostle of Ireland. In 461, Saint Patrick died, but his impact on Ireland was so great that a holiday was erected to celebrate his life. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17, the day that is believed that he died, to commemorate his life and influence on the country.

There are quite of few myths surrounding the life of Saint Patrick, which makes it hard to tell what is true about his life. One of the most common beliefs is that he used a clover to explain the concept of the trinity to the Irish people. The clover, whether the story is true or false, has become a symbol of St. Patrick’s Day.  

Traditionally, Irish people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by starting their day off with church, followed by partying.

They would oftentimes eat lamb. In the U.S., we often associate corned beef with St. Patrick’s day because it was cheap in America and that’s the only meat that the Irish immigrants could afford. This same reason caused the meat to be paired with cabbage. It was, and still is, the only day during the Lenten season they were allowed, by the church, to eat meat.

The celebrations that originally took place are quite different from how the holiday is celebrated today. Up until the 1970s, laws required that all pubs be closed in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, due to the religious nature of the holiday. There was also no concept of a St. Patrick’s parade at the holiday’s origin; that idea did not arise until 1762.

The first parade in honor of St. Patrick’s Day took place in New York City. At the time, there was a significant population of Irish soldiers in America who fought for the English military. These Irish soldiers paraded through New York City in celebration.

From that time on, the traditions and celebrations of St. Patty’s Day have been ingrained in American culture.  To this day, despite the fact that St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish holiday, the largest parades for the holiday are still in America, with cities such as New York City, Boston, and Chicago topping the list. Each of these cities have millions of participants and even more observers. They also have unique traditions, like Chicago dying the river green every year.

Even though there are only 33.5 million Irish-Americans, there are over 181 million people planning to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in America alone, proving that St. Patrick’s has become a holiday celebrated by many more than just the Irish.

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