You’ve probably partaken (or survived) a St. Patrick’s Day before, somewhere or another.

But—

Who was that guy? Why do we celebrate him? How do we get green beer from the solemn origins of the Catholic Church?

Let’s find out.

In this quick overview, we look at the holiday and the man, from its Irish Christian early years to the hooligans around the world who celebrate today.

Green beer to celebrate St. Patrick's Day
Green beer is a staple of many Western pubs and bars in their modern take on St. Patrick’s Day. Taken by P. Fore via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Summary: What is St. Patrick’s Day?

St. Patrick’s Day is the feast or festival day of namesake Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.

Who was St. Patrick?

St. Patrick was (likely) a fifth-century Irish missionary of Christianity; there is some debate as to the dates he lived. Born in Roman Britain, he is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland around 432 CE. Prior to that, the Irish people practiced a form of Celtic polytheism.

Saint Patrick is supposed to have died on March 17, back some 1500 years ago (perhaps 461 CE), which is his feast day is celebrated on this day now.

Much of the info we have on St. Patty comes from two of his publications: Confessio, an autobiography where there’s a story about his capture and enslavement by pirates(!!!), and the Letter to Coroticus, an indictment of the mistreatment of Irish Christians by the British.

A funny point, if true (it’s still debated): St. Patrick may have been neither Patrick or Irish! He was born in the UK, as mentioned earlier, possibly as Maewyn Succat. Legend says he changed his name to Patricius when he became a priest.

A Quick History of St. Patrick’s Day

According to New Advent, “it is due to [theologian Luke Wadding’s] influence, as member of the commission for the reform of the Breviary, that the festival of Ireland’s Apostle was inserted on 17 March in the calendar of the Universal Church.”

When St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, legend says he picked the shamrock to represent the Holy Trinity, as a regular one has three leaves.

If you come across a four-leaf clover, well, that’s the lucky one!

As time went by, legend grew around him, and the holiday and feast was born. When the influx of Irish immigrants came over to the United States, they secularized the holiday by using it to celebrate everything Irish.

In Ireland, politician James O’Mara introduced a bill in 1903 making it an official public holiday.

Common St. Patrick’s Day Traditions & the Holiday Today

In Dublin, St. Patrick’s Day can become a four- or five-day affair, with live music, poetry, Irish cuisine, and dancing (on top of the beer consumption).

Wherever you go, in Ireland, Northern Ireland, or beyond, green is THE dress code of the day—

Faces are painted green, people wear all green everything and a clover in case it wasn’t green enough, and food and beer are even colored green.

As they say, “On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone’s Irish!”

Dog in St. Patrick's Day four leaf clover hat
Dog in St. Patrick’s Day Four-Leaf Clover Hat. Taken by M. Smolnicka via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Interesting St. Patrick’s Day Facts

The original color associated with St. Patrick’s Day was probably BLUE! Going back centuries, the flags and armbands used by the Irish Citizens Army was blue—actually called “St. Patrick’s Blue.” On top of that, Henry VIII was king of Ireland back in the 16th century, and his flag was also blue.

Green slowly replaced blue as the color of color of Ireland. There was the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641, where a green flag represented the Confederation of Kilkenny. Then, green was worn by the Society of United Irishmen in the 1790s. This led to poems such as “The Wearing of the Green,” which cemented green as the Irish color.

The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade anywhere in the world was in the Big Apple in 1762—before even the country was born.

There was a law in Ireland that banned bars being open on St. Patty’s Day, as it fell on Lent. It was finally repealed in the 1960s.

Read Next

For more posts on holidays and traditions, check out the Ilinden Bulgarian Feast of St. Ilia, Swedish Christmas Julbord, International Women’s Day, US Thanksgiving, and the Diwali Hindu Festival of Lights.

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