Saint Patrick's Day

Why is Saint Patrick's Day celebrated?

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February 28, 2012 6:57PM

St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, died on 17 March 461 AD and the day has been celebrated ever since. St. Patrick spent thirty years building and setting up ministries and places of worship all around Ireland.

Since the earliest centuries of Christianity, it has been a custom to celebrate the anniversary of saints' deaths. This allows believers to honor the saint's accomplishments and celebrate their entry into heaven. A "feast day" is designated for every saint, even when the exact date of death of a saint is not known.

St. Patrick was a fifth-century English (or perhaps Scottish) missionary to Ireland. Scholars agree he is a historical figure and that he converted many of the pagans on the island to Christianity, but dismiss most of the legend that has developed about him over the centuries.

The feast day of St. Patrick has been observed in Ireland on March 17 for hundreds of years. The date falls during the fasting season of Lent, but on St. Patrick's Day the prohibitions against eating meat were lifted, and the Irish would celebrate their patron saint with dancing, drinking, and feasting on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.

One of the most widespread of today's St. Patrick's Day celebrations, the St. Patrick's Day parade, began not in Ireland but in America. It consisted of Irish soldiers serving in the English army and took place in New York City on March 17, 1762. The parade helped the soldiers connect with their Irish roots and their fellow Irishmen. In 1848, several Irish Aid societies in New York decided to combine their parades into a single St. Patrick's Day Parade. This parade is the oldest and the largest civilian parade.

Today, Irish expatriates, those of Irish descent, and ever-growing crowds of people with no Irish connections whatsoever celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

Another contributor said:

Not surprisingly, the origin of St. Patrick's day has a lot to do with a man named Saint Patrick. He was supposedly born in the late fourth century with the given named Maewen. Until he was sixteen years old, he considered himself a pagan. He was sold into slavery by a group of Irish marauders that raided his village. While he was a captive, he became closer to God. He escaped after six years and went to Gaul where he studied in a monastery for twelve years. There he came to believe that his calling was to convert pagans to Christianity. He wanted to return to Ireland, but his superiors appointed St. Palladius instead. Two years later, however, he transferred to Scotland. Patrick was then appointed as the second bishop to Ireland. Because he was successful at winning converts, the Celtic Druids arrested him several times, but he escaped anyway. He established monasteries across the country, and set up schools and churches. He described himself as a "humble-minded man, pouring forth a continuous paean of thanks to his Maker for having chosen him as the instrument whereby multitudes who had worshiped idols and unclean things had become the people of God."

There are more legends than facts about him, one of which tells about how he drove the snakes from Ireland. It is true that there are no snakes there, but there probably never were any. In pagan religions, serpent symbols were common and worshiped, so it was most likely symbolic of putting the end to pagan practice. He stayed there for about thirty years. He was the patron saint and the national apostle of Ireland. No one knows for sure how he died. One says that he died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland on March 17, 460 A.D. Another account says he died at Glastonbury, England, and was buried there. The chapel of St. Patrick still exists as part of Glastonbury Abbey. The first St. Patrick's day took place not in Ireland, but in the United States. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City on March 17, 1762. Over the next thirty-five years, Irish patriotism among American immigrants flourished. When they got together to have their parades and parties, newspapers made fun of them, but they soon realized that their numbers gave them power. Political hopefuls began to pay attention to them because of the large numbers of votes they could receive, and they went to St. Patrick's Day parades.

In 1948, President Truman attended New York City's parade. Saint Patrick's Day has become associated with everything Irish, green, gold, shamrocks, and luck. For people who celebrate it for spiritual reasons, it is a traditional day for spiritual renewal and offering prayers for missionaries. It is celebrated on March 17th because that is the day that St. Patrick died. The holiday is observed all around the world, but especially, of course, in Ireland. Almost all businesses other than restaurants and pubs close, and many Irish attend mass. In American cities with a large Irish population, they celebrate with parades, wearing green, music and songs, Irish food and drink, and activities for kids like crafts, coloring, and games. Some communities even dye rivers or streams green. In some places, if you forget to wear green, other people are allowed to pinch you as a friendly reminder. If someone pinches someone who is wearing green, however, they get to pinch the other person ten times.