By Patrick D. Bonin
The feast day of St. Patrick is celebrated every year on March 17th. Huge parades are held in New York and Boston, shamrocks abound and most people wear green to celebrate.
But did you ever wonder why?
Here are some St. Patty’s Day facts we bet you didn’t know:
St. Patrick died on March 17th sometime in the fifth century: many scholars think it was in 461. He is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland, and legend says he used the three leaves of native Irish clover, the shamrock, to explain the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit.)
But get this: St. Patrick really wasn’t Irish at all! He was born in Britain, then part of the Roman Empire. At 16, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and spent 6 years in captivity. He converted to Christianity, and later returned to Ireland to spend the rest of his life working as a Christian missionary.
According to one famous myth, St. Patrick is said to have driven all the snakes from Ireland, symbolizing his cleansing the island of Paganism. The only problem is Ireland has never had snakes: it is surrounded by water too cold for any snakes to migrate there!
The tradition of wearing green started with people picking shamrocks and wearing them on their lapels. But originally, St. Patrick was actually associated with the color blue! (In fact, there is still a particular shade known as St. Patrick’s blue.)
His feast day has been celebrated in Ireland since the ninth or 10th century, but the first parade in his honor actually took place in the United States! In 1762, Irish soldiers in the English military marched through New York City. Today, it is the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the country, with nearly 300,000 participants and 3 million spectators along the parade route.
In Chicago, the Chicago River is dyed green every St. Patrick’s Day with about 40 gallons of green vegetable dye.
When the Great Potato Famine hit Ireland in 1845, almost 1 million poor, uneducated Irish Catholics poured into America to escape starvation. Originally shunned by the American Protestant majority, many had trouble finding even menial jobs. But the American Irish soon realized that their large numbers gave them political power, and they organized their own voting block, known as the “green machine.” It rapidly became an important swing vote for political hopefuls, and St. Patrick’s Day parades were must-attend events for many political candidates.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Ireland and the United States, and throughout the world, including Japan, Singapore, Russia, Australia and Canada.
So don’t forget to wear your green, and have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
A little secret fact…
the author of this article was born on St. Patrick’s Day! Send him a happy birthday on our facebook page!