The history of St. Patrick's day

St. Patrick's Day celebrates the life of Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. Saint Patrick lived during the 4th century in Roman Britain. According to legend, he was kidnapped from his homeland by Irish raiders as a young man and sold into slavery in Ireland. Six years later, the young Patrick had a vision of God who told him to escape on a boat going back to Britain.

Once safe at home, Patrick dedicated his life to the Catholic Church and became a priest like his father and grandfather before him. As an older man, he was called to Ireland for mission work. He taught the Gospel to Irish pagans by using the three-leaved clover, or shamrock, to explain the Holy Trinity. Today, the shamrock and the color green are most associated with the saint on the traditional day of his death, March 17th.

Irish Catholics have observed St. Patrick's Day as the saint's holy feast day since the 17th century. Children wore homemade St. Patrick crosses to mass, families decorated their homes with wooden St. Brigid crosses, and the Church set aside the Lenten restrictions for the day, thus everyone feasted heartily. In 1903, the day was made the official national holiday of Ireland. Today, people wear green clothes, decorate with shamrocks and often drink heartily. Sixteen different festivals are held throughout Ireland on March 17th, including the biggest one of all in Dublin. Since 1996, the St. Patrick's Festival in Dublin offers sporting events, such as football, rugby and hurling, as well as outdoor concerts, theatre performances and fireworks.

Since the early 2000s, the annual celebration has lasted four days (17th - 20th), with many tourists partaking in green beer and ale. Though mostly a secular holiday today, St. Patrick's Day is still a religious observance day in Ireland by the Roman Catholic Church and by the Church of Ireland. Many Irish people start St. Patrick's Day in mass, praying and giving offerings. Up until 1995, in fact, pubs were ordered closed on St. Patrick's Day in Ireland.

In the United States, Irish descendants kept the tradition of St. Patty's Day alive. The Irish Society of Boston held the first St. Patrick's Day public celebration in 1737. Most of the participants were British-born solders celebrating their distant Irish heritage. In 1766, the first St. Patrick's Day parade was held in New York City, declaring that everyone was Irish for a day! In the 1800s, during the mass Irish immigration, Irish Aide organizations appeared, such as the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Hibernian Society, and formed parades consisting of millions of people each year.

These marches brought Irish-Americans together as a people, and also acted as political messages for the Irish vote. Since 1962, the Chicago River has been colored green with vegetable dye on St. Patrick's Day. The traditional St. Patty's dinner is cabbage and corned beef (originally cabbage and bacon). March is now officially considered Irish-American Heritage Month, with both Irish and non-Irish celebrating in bars, outdoors and at home. Luck 'o the Irish!

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