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Feast of St Patrick – 17th March



Saint Patrick's Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick (Irish: Lá Fhéile Pádraig, lit. 'the Day of the Festival of Patrick'), is a religious and cultural holiday held on 17 March, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick (c. 385 – c. 461), the foremost patron saint of Ireland.


Saint Patrick's Day was made an official Christian feast day in the early 17th century and is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (especially the Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Lutheran Church. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and, by extension, celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, céilithe, and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. Christians who belong to liturgical denominations also attend church services and historically the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted for the day, which has encouraged and propagated the holiday's tradition of alcohol consumption.


Saint Patrick's Day is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador (for provincial government employees), and the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat. It is also widely celebrated in the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, United States, Argentina, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand, especially amongst Irish diaspora. Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival. Modern celebrations have been greatly influenced by those of the Irish diaspora, particularly those that developed in North America. However, there has been criticism of Saint Patrick's Day celebrations for having become too commercialised and for fostering negative stereotypes of the Irish people.


Born in Roman Britain in the late 4th century, he was kidnapped at the age of 16 and taken to Ireland as a slave. He escaped but returned about 432 CE to convert the Irish to Christianity. By the time of his death on March 17, 461, he had established monasteries, churches, and schools. Many legends grew up around him—for example, that he drove the snakes out of Ireland and used the shamrock to explain the Trinity. Ireland came to celebrate his day with religious services and feasts.


It was emigrants, particularly to the United States, who transformed St. Patrick’s Day into a largely secular holiday of revelry and celebration of things Irish. Cities with large numbers of Irish immigrants, who often wielded political power, staged the most extensive celebrations, which included elaborate parades. Boston held its first St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1737, followed by New York City in 1762. Since 1962 Chicago has coloured its river green to mark the holiday. (Although blue was the colour traditionally associated with St. Patrick, green is now commonly connected with the day.) Irish and non-Irish alike commonly participate in the “wearing of the green”—sporting an item of green clothing or a shamrock, the Irish national plant, in the lapel. Corned beef and cabbage are associated with the holiday, and even beer is sometimes dyed green to celebrate the day. Although some of these practices eventually were adopted by the Irish themselves, they did so largely for the benefit of tourists.


The man who would eventually become St. Patrick was born in Britain (part of the Roman Empire at the time) as Maewyn Succat in the late 4th century. His family was Christian, but it’s said that Maewyn himself was an atheist throughout his childhood.


That would change at age 16 (around A.D. 400)A-stained glass recreation of St. Patrick holding a shamrock was found in Junction City, Ohio. when Maewyn was kidnapped from his home on the west coast of Britain by Irish pirates, who proceeded to carry him off to Ireland and force him to work as a shepherd herding sheep. After six years, he escaped his captors, walking nearly 200 miles through the Irish landscape and convincing a ship to carry him with them back to Britain. This harrowing experience certainly had an effect on Maewyn, who was convinced it was the Lord who protected him and delivered him safely home.


Upon returning home, Maewyn received his call (in a dream) to preach the Gospel—in Ireland, of all places! He spent the next 15 or so years in a monastery in Britain, preparing for his missionary work. When he became a priest, his name was changed to Patricius, and he returned to the land of his captors to begin his teachings.


Although some Christians already lived in Ireland at the time, the country was largely pagan, so spreading a foreign religion was not an easy task. Patricius traveled from village to village to share the teachings of the Lord and was eventually successful enough to found many churches there.


We wear a shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day because, legend says, St. Patrick used its three leaves to explain the Holy Trinity in his teachings. (The Trinity is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit as three divine persons who are one divine being [God].) The truth of the St. Patrick legend, however, is in question, as there is no direct record that the saint actually used the shamrock as a teaching tool.


The symbol of St. Patrick is a three-leaf shamrock, not a four-leaf clover. However, long before the shamrock became associated with St. Patrick’s Day, the four-leaf clover was regarded by ancient Celts as a charm against evil spirits. In the early 1900s, O. H. Benson, an Iowa school superintendent, came up with the idea of using a clover as the emblem for a newly founded agricultural club for children in his area. In 1911, the four-leaf clover was chosen as the emblem for the national club program, later named 4-H.


St. Patrick was a real person, but some of the traditions associated with him and the holiday are actually myths. For instance, you’ll often see the four-leaf clover on St. Patrick’s Day. However, according to legend, Patrick used a three-leaf clover, or shamrock, as part of his teachings. Even though it's possible for a shamrock to grow a fourth leaf, a four-leaf clover is just considered a symbol of good luck.


Another legend says that Patrick chased all the snakes out of Ireland. The problem? These creatures never actually lived in the country. In fact many animals found throughout Europe and North America don’t live on the island of Ireland—the ocean keeps the critters away.

The fact that Ireland is an island—as well as green with leafy trees and grassy hills—means that the nation is sometimes called the Emerald Isle. But the color that people originally associated with St. Patrick was blue! (Some ancient Irish flags even sport this color.) Green was finally introduced to St. Patrick’s Day festivities in the 18th century, when the shamrock (which is, of course, green) became a national symbol. Because of the shamrock’s popularity and Ireland’s landscape, the color stuck to the holiday.


Green is also the color that mythical fairies called leprechauns like to dress in—today, at least. But tales about leprechauns date back to before green was in: The fairies were first described as wearing red.


Leprechauns are actually one reason you’re supposed to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day—or risk getting pinched! The tradition is tied to folklore that says wearing green makes you invisible to leprechauns, which like to pinch anyone they can see. Some people also think sporting the color will bring good luck, and others wear it to honor their Irish ancestry. No wonder green decorations can be seen all over—the Chicago River in Illinois is even dyed green each year to celebrate the holiday.


Another tradition includes many Irish-American people in the United States eating corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day. People also gather to watch parades of traditional Irish dancers and musicians as they march through city streets. However you celebrate, here’s hoping it’s a lucky day!


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