Why and How is St. Patrick’s Day Celebrated?

It’s one of those things we all celebrate but we don’t quite know why. Around the world, there are festivals, parades with elaborate costumes and dancing, special cuisine, and some of us just like a good excuse to wear a whole lot of green! But who exactly was Saint Patrick and why do we celebrate in his honor?

Also known as the Feast of Saint Patrick (or more fondly as St. Patty’s Day), the day is actually celebrated on the death date of Saint Patrick. As it turns out, Saint Patrick’s Day is observed not only in commemoration of the saint, but for the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, as well as the Irish culture as a whole. The holiday is observed by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran Churches, as well as the Anglican Communion. And though the day is not recognized in the U.S. as a federal holiday, it is celebrated by people from all over who want to get in touch with their Irish heritage.

Who was Saint Patrick?

Contrary to popular belief, Saint Patrick was not in fact Irish and identified with no particular religion. It wasn’t until he returned to Ireland after being enslaved for many years that he established his faith and became a missionary. Today, Saint Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland.

Shamrocks

Symbols

So what does the shamrock have to do with Saint Patrick’s Day and why do we wear green? Well, according to legend, Saint Patrick actually used a three-leafed clover to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans. Green is typically worn or displayed to represent Irish nationalism, as it is the color found in the green harp flag, which was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation and dates back to the 1640s. Since then, the color green has become symbolic of Irish heritage and is often used in traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Other symbols that are often associated with the holiday are leprechauns, which according to Irish folklore are a “small-bodied fellow” with magical powers. According to legend, leprechauns used their trickery to protect their treasure.

Celebrations

They may seem strange at first, but there are plenty of traditions that take place all over the world in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Did you know that every year, the entire Chicago River is dyed green for the holiday? It’s an annual event that has grown in popularity since being started as a family tradition over 50 years ago.

Food

Corned beef and cabbage are most widely known as the traditional food of Saint Patrick’s Day. Irish immigrants who lived on New York City’s Lower East Side are said to have substituted corned beef as a cheaper alternative to traditional Irish bacon.

Beer

 Of course, the celebration usually also calls for the consumption of Irish stout beer, which remains a crowd favorite in the country of Ireland as well as in the U.S. The drink of choice is Guinness—or better yet, bright green Guinness, which is offered at most pubs in its home country during celebrations and even in bars in the U.S.!

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