Saturday, March 7, 2009

What Exactly is the Significance of St. Patrick's Day?

It's time for the 12th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture. In honor of St. Patrick's Day, the theme for this edition is a parade of all things Irish.

Growing up, we always celebrated St. Patrick's Day with corned beef and cabbage, all the while wearing our green apparel. Until now, I had no idea who St. Patrick was, or what the significance of the day was. I did some digging to learn about this person, this day, and essentially, more about my Irish heritage.

St. Patrick, Who Was He?

St. Patrick is believed to have been born at the end of the fourth century in Britain. When he was sixteen, he was taken from his home by Irish pirates. He was held prisoner in Ireland for six years, working as a slave. During this time, we relied heavily on his Christian faith and prayed every day.

He escaped captivity and returned home to Britain. He spent more than fifteen years in religious training, after which he was ordained. St. Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary. It is believed that he founded 365 Christian churches throughout Northern Ireland.

Each source I read indicated a different year of St. Patrick's death. But all sources note the 17th of March as the day. Most sources point to the later half of the fifth century as the year.

St. Patrick's Day

The 17th of March signifies St. Patrick's death and has been celebrated as a religious holiday for over a thousand years. On this day, Irish folk would observe the holiday by heading to church in the morning and celebrating in the afternoon. Oddly enough, St. Patrick's day occurs during Lent, so the "no-meat" rule does not apply for the celebration.

Today, St. Patrick's Day is celebrated in numerous way in several countries, by Irish and non-Irish.

So What's With the Corned Beef?

The Irish would traditionally feast on Irish bacon and cabbage. Corned beef came into play when the Irish in New York were looking for a cheaper alternative. Corned beef is now the staple for Irish-Americans.

And What About All That Green?

It is believed that the color blue was long associated with St. Patrick and St. Patrick's Day. It is likely that the color green became associated with St. Patrick's Day merely because green is the color of the Irish, and is the color of the shamrock.

I remember when I was younger, my dad said that we could also wear orange. To this day I never understood why. My guess would be that it's because orange, like green, is in the flag of Ireland.


So that's what I learned today and it's only the tip of the iceberg. To learn more, check out the sources I used (below).


1. Statue of St. Patrick, by Pierre, permission under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

2. Chicago River St Patrick's Day 2008, photographed by Mathprog777, permission under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.


1. History.com, "Saint Patrick's Day," website.

2. St. Patrick's Day, website.

3. Wikipedia, "Saint Patrick's Day," website.

4. Wikipedia, "Saint Patrick," website.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm visiting from the parade.
Thanks for the history of St. Patrick!

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