History of St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and one of Christianity’s most famous and widely known figures.  He was born in Britain sometime in the late 4th century to a wealthy family.  His father was a Christian deacon, although there is no particular evidence that he came from a religious family.  St. Patrick most likely found religious enlightenment in his mid-teens when he was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who had attacked his family’s estate.  He was taken to Ireland and spent several years in captivity.  It was during this time that he worked as a shepherd and became a devout Christian.

Patrick eventually escaped his captivity, left Ireland, and went to Gaul where he studied in the monastery under St. Germain, the bishop of Auxerre.  According to his writings, it was shortly after he escaped from his captivity that a voice in a dream told him that his calling was to convert the Irish to Christianity.  Although at first, St. Palladius was appointed the task of going to Ireland to convert pagans to Christianity.  However, Palladius was soon transferred to Scotland which paved the way for St. Patrick.

Having a familiarity with the Irish language and culture, Patrick incorporated traditional Irish rituals into his Christian lessons instead of eradicating native Irish beliefs.  His methods proved very successful.  He established monasteries, schools, and churches across the country which greatly aided his ability to convert the Irish to Christianity.   This Christian conversion mission in Ireland lasted for about 30 years until he died on March 17th in AD 460 and St. Patrick’s day has been celebrated on this day every year since.

The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade actually took place in New York City, not Ireland around 1760.  The parade was celebrated by Irish soldiers serving in the English military as a means for the soldiers to reconnect with their Irish roots.  Today, St. Patrick’s Day has come to be associated with everything Irish – anything green and gold, shamrocks, and luck.  The shamrock symbol stems from an old Irish tale that illustrates how St. Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Trinity.  The day also serves as a traditional day for spiritual renewal and offering prayers for missionaries worldwide.  In Ireland, most businesses close on March 17th in observance of the holiday, with the exception of restaurants and pubs.  Cities and towns from around the world celebrate the day with parades, the wearing of green, and drinking beer.  It has also become popular as a prelude to the first day of spring, occurring just a few days prior to the official start of the new season.

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