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The Origins of Saint Patrick’s Day

The Origins of Saint Patrick’s Day


It’s that time of year again: time to bust out the green and hoist a frothy pint of Guinness in honor of Saint Patrick and all things Irish. Saint Patrick’s Day is one of the biggest bashes on the calendar in the U.S.—but what exactly does it signify? To put your food-coloring creativity, parade-going, and pub-crawl carousing in perspective this year, here’s a little bit of background.

Saint Patrick became Ireland’s patron saint after his death in 461—on March 17, to be exact, hence the timing of the holiday. Yet the man himself wasn’t Irish: He was actually born (as Maewyn Succat) in Britannia, the Roman province of Great Britain, and came to Ireland as a slave. Eventually he escaped, converted to Christianity, and became a missionary in France. It was in that capacity that he eventually came back to Ireland to spread the gospel, supposedly using the shamrock—the three-leafed clover—to illustrate the concept of the Trinity. Legend also has him driving all the snakes from Ireland (a striking story for sure, except that no serpents were ever native to the island).

So there’s a nutshell history of Saint Patrick. What about his holiday? Well, the date of his death has long been marked as a Christian “feast day” in Ireland. It gained a more festive and secular tone across the pond, where Irish-American (and Irish-Canadian) immigrants used the occasion to commemorate their heritage. The fact that restrictions on eating and drinking during Lent are waived on Saint Patrick’s Day, coupled with its broadened scope as an all-around celebration of Ireland and its culture, helps explain today’s boozy revelry. (Though Ireland declared Saint Patrick’s Day a national holiday in 1903, pubs were closed on March 17 until the mid-1970s.)

These days, of course, Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated all around the world, but there’s no question some of the most exuberant (and deep-rooted) shindigs go down among the U.S.’s huge, proud Irish-American population (and all of us Irish-Americans-at-heart). New York City’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade, which has been going strong since the mid-18th century, remains the biggest anywhere. The Windy City, meanwhile, has been dyeing the Chicago River an Emerald Isle green since 1962.

Here’s wishing you a merry (and safe) Saint Patrick’s Day from all of us at Basin Harbor Club!