Saint Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2012 9:07 am
Saint Patrick’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day, holiday honoring Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. It is celebrated annually on March 17, his feast day. Saint Patrick was a missionary in the 5th century ad who is credited with converting Ireland to Christianity. St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland. It is also celebrated by people of Irish descent in many other countries, especially by Irish Americans in the United States.

One popular St. Patrick’s Day tradition is wearing green clothing. Green, the national color of Ireland, symbolizes the island’s lush landscape. The main symbol associated with the holiday is the shamrock, a small three-leafed clover or clover-like plant. According to legend, St. Patrick used the shamrock, because of its three leaves, to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to the Irish people. The shamrock is now the national emblem of Ireland.
In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is an important religious holiday celebrating the conversion of the Irish to Christianity. Businesses are closed, except for some restaurants and pubs. People attend church services honoring St. Patrick and learn about his life. Many Irish people wear sprigs of real shamrock and greet each other by saying, ‘Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh,’ or ‘May the blessings of St. Patrick be with you.’ Many enjoy a traditional meal that includes colcannon—boiled potatoes and cabbage mashed together with butter. The day is also seen as a reprieve from the sober weeks of Lent, and adults may drink a pint of ale (called “drowning the shamrock”) and allow their children some candy.
Until recently, Ireland held few parades or secular celebrations on St. Patrick’s Day. However, in 1995 the government of Ireland established the St. Patrick’s Day Festival with the goal of creating a national festival “that ranks amongst all of the greatest celebrations in the world.” The four-day festival, launched in 1996 and held annually in Dublin, features a major parade on St. Patrick’s Day as well as music and dance performances, food, crafts, and a fireworks display. The event is Ireland’s largest annual celebration.
Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day has been a tradition in the United States since 1737, when the Charitable Irish Society of Boston organized the first St. Patrick’s Day parade. New York City’s parade began in 1762. St. Patrick’s Day was even acknowledged by General George Washington during the American Revolution. In 1780, during the Continental Army’s bitter winter encampment in Morristown, New Jersey, Washington permitted his troops, many of whom were of Irish descent, a holiday on March 17. This event is now known as the St. Patrick’s Day Encampment of 1780.
Today, more than 100 U.S. cities hold St. Patrick’s Day parades. The parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City is the largest and most famous. The parade traditionally stops at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a blessing of the marchers by the cardinal of New York. The St. Patrick’s Day parade in Savannah, Georgia, first held in 1824, is one of the largest and oldest in the United States. In Canada, Montréal’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, first held in 1824, is the oldest in the country. Toronto has held a large parade since 1988.
Popular St. Patrick’s Day customs in the United States and Canada include drinking beer that has been colored green, eating corned beef and cabbage, wearing shamrock pins and green clothing, and generally celebrating all things Irish. In Chicago, the Chicago River is dyed green, a tradition started in 1962.
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