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What is St Patrick’s Day and Why Do We Celebrate it?

Do you know what St Patrick’s Day is all about? Have you been to an event where everyone wore green and you couldn’t understand what was going on? Since most of our readers are immigrants, we make it a point at BRZ to explain the meanings of popular US celebrations and holidays. With the beloved Saint Patrick’s Day, we make no exception.

Keep reading to learn all about this famous holiday and avoid getting pinched when you least expect it. 

Saint Patrick’s Day

St Patrick’s Day was created in honor of Saint Patrick on March 17, the day of his death in the 5th century. The (official) celebration began in 1631, when the Church established a day in honor of the saint. However, the day was celebrated in Ireland for 12 centuries before the modern version of the holiday was first observed.

On this date, which falls during Lent, Irish families traditionally attended church in the morning and celebrated in the afternoon. Although the Church was quite strict at the time, the Lenten prohibitions were waived on Saint Patrick’s Day and people danced, drank and celebrated.

The holiday has evolved into a celebration of Irish culture with parades, special food, music, dancing, drinking and lots of green.

Who was St Patrick?

Legend says that St. Patrick was actually born Maewyn Succat, but changed his name to Patricius, which derives from the Latin term for “father figure,” after he became a priest.

Born in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped at age 16 and taken to Ireland as a slave. He eventually escaped, but returned to Ireland and, according to tradition, introduced Christianity to his people. By the time of his death, he had established monasteries, churches and schools.

Many legends grew up around him. The most famous is that he expelled all snakes from Ireland and used the shamrock to explain the Trinity, which contributes to the 3-leaf clover being used as an icon for the holiday.

How did the tradition arrive in the US?

Boston has long claimed the first celebration of St Patrick’s Day in American colonies. On March 17, 1737, Irish immigrants who lived in the city gathered to honor Saint Patrick and form the Charitable Irish Society to help distressed Irish in the city. To this day, the Irish organization, the oldest in the US, holds an annual St Patrick’s Day dinner.

However, historian Michael Francis has found evidence of a celebration honoring the saint in St Augustine, Florida, around 1600.

The largest and most traditional St Patrick’s Day parade, which every year takes thousands of people to the streets of New York, began in 1762. On that day, Irish soldiers serving in the British Army marched through lower Manhattan for a Patrick’s Day morning at a local restaurant.

This only added to the enthusiasm for St Patrick’s Day celebrations and parades not only in New York, but in Boston and other large American cities that have joined in on what is now tradition.

Over the years, Irish patriotism grew among American immigrants, who were marginalized, leading to the rise of so-called “Irish Aid” societies, which held annual parades with bagpipes and drums.

In 1848, several New York Irish Aid societies decided to unite their parades to form an official parade.

St Patrick’s Day x Political Influence

Many of the Irish who migrated to the US in the 19th century came from famine. They arrived with a different religion, different accents, and were poor and uneducated, which made it difficult to find jobs, even manual ones.

But as the community grew, an untapped political power was soon noticed. They began to organize and their constituency became a decisive vote for aspiring politicians. All of a sudden, the annual St. Patrick’s Day parades have become a show of strength for Irish-Americans, as well as a must for political candidates.

Why do we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day?

Patrick’s original color was blue, but as Ireland, called the Emerald Isle, is very much associated with the color green, Americans gradually began to use green and as with most St Patrick’s Day traditions, Ireland and the rest of the world followed suit.

But it can also be to escape the Leprechaun… They say that on St. Patrick’s Day, if you’re in green, you’re invisible to the Leprechaun. If you’re not in green, however, he’ll be able to see you and you’ll get a pinch when you least expect it. Will you take the risk?

Where to celebrate St Patrick’s Day?

The largest parade in the US, mentioned earlier, is in the city of NY. This parade is the oldest civil parade in the world and has more than 150,000 participants. Every year, around 3 million people line up on the 2.4-kilometer parade route to watch the procession, which takes more than five hours. Boston hosts the 2nd largest parade, which takes place in South Boston, along Fenway Park.

Chicago, Philadelphia and Savannah also celebrate the day with parades involving between 10,000 and 20,000 participants each.

Want to learn more about the holidays and American culture?

Access our “History and Culture” category and have fun! If you can’t find what you’re looking for, send us a suggestion!

Luciana Sá

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