St. Patrick’s day has evolved from a local tradition to a global phenomenon. It began as a day to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland and has since transformed into an international festival celebrating Irish culture.
St. Patrick the Man
Ironically enough, the man for which the holiday was named was neither Irish nor called Patrick. According to historical experts, Patrick was born in Britain with the given name of Maewyn Succat around the turn of the 4th century. Maewyn was subsequently kidnapped by Irish pirates at the age of sixteen. Although he had considered himself an Atheist, Maewyn found his faith during his captivity in Ireland. The estimated duration of his enslavement ranges from six to seventeen years, after which Patrick escaped Ireland and returned home. After receiving religious training in Britain, Maewyn changed his name to Patricius upon becoming a priest, which is derived from the Latin word for “father figure.” Patricius eventually returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary. The year of his death is disputed, but most accounts put the day as March 17th – thus the date of St. Patrick’s Day.
During his missionary days in Ireland, St. Patrick adopted the Shamrock to represent the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit joined by a common stalk. It should be mentioned, however, that some historians dispute this story, claiming that there is no evidence of St. Patrick using the shamrock in this way.
Whatever the instrument, by most accounts St. Patrick’s missionary campaign was wildly successful. By the time of his death, St. Patrick had helped create many churches, schools and monasteries for Christianity in Ireland.
The Color Green
According to historical record, St. Patrick’s original color was not green. In the early days of the holiday, when it was only celebrated by Roman Catholics in Ireland, blue was the representative color for St. Patrick’s Day. There are many theories as to why the color changed. One theory comes from Ireland’s nickname as the “Emerald Isle,” with its lush green landscape. Other experts attribute the color change to the 1798 Irish Rebellion, when the clover became a symbol of nationalism and wearing green on the lapels became regular practice.
The tradition of having a parade on St. Patrick’s day started in the US thanks to Irish immigrants. Though at the time it was the British Colonies, Irish soldiers serving in the army of England marched through the streets of New York in 1762. By the mid-1800s, the parade was made an official event in the city of New York.
Parades took significantly longer to gain a foothold in Ireland due mostly to historical conflicts. St. Patrick’s Day was officially declared a public holiday in Ireland in 1903, but the first celebratory parade didn’t take place in Dublin until 1931. Belfast, which is the capital of Northern Ireland, didn’t have a parade until 1998 because of Protestant hostilities toward Irish national symbols.
Like many other aspects of St. Patrick’s Day history, the origin of the leprechaun is also in dispute by historians. Some say the word leprechaun is derived from the 8th century word “luchorpan” which means “little body.” Other sources attribute the origin of leprechauns to the Irish god Lugh, otherwise known as one of the “Three Golden Shoemakers.” Still others claim it’s derived from the Irish fairy Cluricaune, a trickster fairy popularized by the 1825 publication “Fairy Legends.”
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