Our Global Community: The Meaning Of St. Patrick’s Day

In this week’s Our Global Community article series, we look into the meaning of St. Patrick’s Day, which is celebrated annually on March 17th, the anniversary of the saint’s death.

The Irish have observed St. Patrick’s Day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. The celebration, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, sees Irish families attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon.

Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast.

Who Was St. Patrick?

Saint Patrick who lived during the fifth century, is the patron saint of Ireland and its national apostle. Born in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16. He later escaped, but returned to Ireland and is credited with bringing Christianity to its people.

In the centuries following Patrick’s death (believed to have been on March 17th, 461), the mythology surrounding his life became ever more ingrained in the Irish culture: The most well-known legend of St. Patrick is that he explained the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock.

When Was The First St. Patrick’s Day Celebrated?

Since around the ninth or 10th century, people in Ireland have been observing the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick on March 17th. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place not in Ireland but in America. Records show that a St. Patrick’s Day parade was held on March 17th, 1601 in a Spanish colony in what is now St. Augustine, Florida. The parade, and a St. Patrick’s Day celebration a year earlier were organised by the Spanish Colony’s Irish vicar Ricardo Artur. 

More than a century later, homesick Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched in New York City on March 17th, 1772 to honour the Irish patron saint. Enthusiasm for the St. Patrick’s Day parades in New York City, Boston and other early American cities only grew from there.

Celebrations Around The World

Today, people of all backgrounds celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, especially throughout America, Canada and Australia. Although North America is home to the largest productions, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in locations far from Ireland, including Japan, Singapore and Russia. Popular St. Patrick’s Day recipes include Irish soda bread, corned beef and cabbage and champ. People often wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.

In modern-day Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day has traditionally been a religious occasion. In fact, up until the 1970s, Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on March 17th. However, beginning in 1995, the Irish government began a national campaign to use interest in St. Patrick’s Day to drive tourism and showcase Ireland and Irish culture to the rest of the world. 

We want to wish our Irish members an especially joyous St. Patrick’s Day!

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