Hey, I love to party just as much as the next guy on St. Paddy’s Day. I’m down with drinking some Guinness and feasting on some corned beef and cabbage while I’m decked out in green garb. But I’ve always felt compelled to know why I’m celebrating this holiday. So I decided to look into the history of St. Patrick’s Day.
History of St. Patrick
The story of St. Patrick starts in 5th century Britain where a 16-year-old boy, whose name was Maewyn Succat, was kidnapped from his family by Irish marauders. He remained a shepherd slave for six years until a bishop directed him to escape. Upon his return to Britain, he was beckoned by visions to help the people of Ireland. So he took his vows, became a priest and adopted the Christian name Patrick. In 432 A.D. he returned to Ireland on a mission, converting the Irish to Christianity, while helping to build schools and monasteries along Ireland’s north and west coasts.
A popular myth has Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland; Truth is, there were never snakes on the island. This is probably a metaphor for Patrick’s cleansing the island of Paganism. Another myth involves Patrick using the shamrock to teach the Holy Trinity. This legend is possible although Patrick never wrote about it in his autobiography The Confession.
National Holiday in America
So why does the holiday fall on March 17th? Supposedly, this day marks the day that Patrick died in 461 A.D. Since then, Irish-Christians have marked the anniversary as a holy day. Beginning in the Middle Ages, Irish Catholics would close shop and attend services to honor the Feast of St. Patrick. Then it was time to party. The holiday falls during Lent, the season before Easter when Catholics give up their vices as penance. The Feast of St. Patrick was a one-day reprieve from Lent, a day when Irishmen could down a pint or two of ale. However, this custom really took off. The first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Colonial America occurred in Boston in 1737 with a parade organized by the Irish Society; New York City followed in 1762. Today, New York’s parade down 5th Avenue is America’s largest and rowdiest St. Patrick’s Day tradition.
Corned beef and cabbage
During the 1840’s, while Ireland was starving from the potato famine, millions of Irish were forced to leave the country. The mass migration sent the Irish to Canada, Australia and America. Once the Irish settled in their new countries, they brought along many old customs and invented a few new ones. In the United States, it became customary to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. Near the end of the 19th century, the smell of corned beef was pouring from Irish-American neighborhoods. The traditional Irish meal had been boiled bacon and potatoes, but in The States, immigrants purchased a cheap cut of beef, tenderize it with brine and slow cook it with cabbage. This dish remains to be a delicious St. Paddy’s Day tradition.
As the Irish in America gained influence in politics and culture, their exclusive holiday became a nationally recognized celebration. And it all began more than 1,500 years ago, when a young boy was torn from his family in Britain! Little did Patrick know, his life would inspire food, parades and the hoisting of a few pints to honor this special day!
So, this St. Patrick’s Day be sure to raise a pint to St. Patrick. And as always, make sure that you enjoy responsibly and have a safe ride home so that you can enjoy it again next year. Sláinte!