The who, what & where of Saint Patrick’s Day.
We celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17th, the anniversary of the death of Ireland’s patron saint as well as the fifth-century arrival of Christianity to Ireland. This is Saint Paddy’s origin story.
The Saint • His father was Roman, his mother British, and they all lived in what is now part of modern-day Wales. So yeah, Patrick wasn’t Irish. His name wasn’t even Patrick. It was Maewyn Succat. Imagine celebrating Saint Succat’s Day. Maewyn preferred to go by Patricius, and it stuck. Now get this. As a child, the famed Apostle of Ireland wasn’t much of a Christian. Only after an unpleasant kidnapping did Patricius find God.
The Pirates • When he was just 16, Patrick was captured by Irish raiders. For six years he was enslaved, learned Irish customs, and converted to Christianity. Then, as Patrick testifies in his Confessio, an angel appeared with an inspiring message, “You have fasted well. Very soon you will return to your native country.” A few fervent prayers later, he escaped home.
The Return • Having returned a more enlighted Christian, Patrick dedicated his life to studying the faith. Another holy vision later and he was determined to spread the good word to the Irish. So, he bravely journeyed to the land of his captors, bringing a big ol’ rainbow pot of Christianity with him. While not warmly welcomed at first, eventually, Saint Patrick baptized thousands and helped establish over 300 churches.
Symbols, Myths and Legends
Shamrock Icon • When Saint Patrick was preaching, he often used the three leaves of the clover to teach people about the Holy Trinity, The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost.
Snake Myth • Patrick had nothing to do with driving snakes out of the country. How can we be so sure? There were no snakes in Ireland. The myth may have arisen as an allegory for Saint Patrick driving out pagan beliefs to pave the way for Christianity.
Corned Beef Baloney • Some say we celebrate St. Paddy’s Day with corned beef because Patrick presumably ate the salt-cured meat on his voyage home after escaping his captors. False. Seems more likely that Irish Americans introduced the classic dish with a side of cabbage many years later. In fact, the traditional Saint Patrick’s Day meal eaten in Ireland is actually lamb or bacon.
Green Fact • From head to toe (or at least a pair of shamrock socks), you best be wearing your finest green on Saint Paddy’s Day. But why? In the late 1700s during the Irish Rebellion, soldiers wore green in contrast to the British red. The soldiers sang, “The Wearing of the Green”, and the color of shamrocks became Ireland’s signature color. Across the pond a couple of centuries later in 1962, Chicago canonized green on St. Paddy’s Day by dying their river a lovely shade of emerald.
Leprechaun Legend • Prior to Christianity, many of the Irish believed in the Celtic religion, and leprechauns were often featured in Celtic folklore. The stories tell of fairy-like creatures fond of pinching people for not wearing green and guarding pots of gold at the end of rainbows.
In the beginning • Before it was rebranded Saint Patrick’s Day, the commemoration of Patrick’s death and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland was dubbed “Feast Day” and took place on March 17, 461 AD.
In Ireland • In the early twentieth century, Ireland declared Feast Day a national holiday. Over the years, a more popular name emerged and March 17th has been celebrated as St. Patrick’s Day ever since.
In the United States • The first Saint Patrick’s Day parade actually took place in America and was commissioned in 1601 by the Spanish vicar of the colony that is now Saint Augustine, Florida. Some of the largest celebrations in the world continue annually in American cities where Irish immigrants originally flocked. Port towns like Boston, New York, and Chicago. Of course, the best place to get your green on (showing some bias here), is Savannah, Georgia.
In Savannah • Over half a million revelers will descend upon this historic city overflowing with charm and Irish heritage. For everything you need to know about planning the perfect visit, check out our complete guide here.Plan Your Stay