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Everything you need to know about St Patrick’s Day

As March 17 approaches you may have noticed new decorations in shop windows – shamrocks (3-leaf clover), leprechauns and pots of gold. You may have also noticed that everything seems to be turning green! Not with envy, but in celebration of St Patrick’s Day. Most people have heard of St Patrick and know he has something to do with Ireland. But do you actually know what makes him so special? In this Blog post learn who he was, what he did and how you can join in the fun!

A Brief History St Patrick?

It’s not known for sure when St Patrick was born although best guesses put it at around the fifth century. He was born near what is now known as Cmbria (England). This means that St Patrick really wasn’t Irish at all. So how did he become one of the most famous people in Irish history?

When Patrick was around 16, he was captured by pirates and taken to Ireland where he spent 6 years captive. During this time, he became a Christian and started to have visions from God. His first vision told him to escape and go back to England. Patrick did escape and talked a ship’s captain into taking him home.

Of course, many things happened to Patrick once he arrived in England, including almost starving to death, but he survived and continued to have visions. Finally, it became clear that God wanted him to return to Ireland. So, he did, and this is where the story of St Patrick really begins.

St Patricks Day parade - Leprechaun

Legends of St Patrick

There are many legends about St Patrick. Some of these stories are likely true, while others are just tales. For example, it is said that St Patrick banished snakes from Ireland. The legend says that St Patrick was fasting on top of a mountain and was attacked by snakes. He commanded the snakes to leave Ireland and never come back. From that moment on there were no snakes in Ireland. However, scientists have proven that this cannot be true. There is no evidence at all of snakes being in Ireland to begin with. Therefore, it is safe to say that this is just a story.

Another legend says that it took St Patrick so long to convert the people of Aspatria to Christianity, that his walking stick grew roots into the ground and became a tree! Although it is not likely that this story is true, there is also no proof that it is not!

St Patrick?

Not many people realise that St Patrick is not really a saint! He was never officially made a saint by any Pope. However, as he is widely regarded and treated as one, he is allowed to use this title. Like other saints, St Patrick has a feast day. St Patrick’s Day is March 17, which is believed to be the day he died.

Why is it so popular in the United States?

Irish migration to the United States goes back as far as the early 18th century. The majority of these migrants arrived and settled in Pennsylvania and Maryland and then later New York, Boston and Philadelphia. These new settlers brought with them traditions from home. This included St Patrick’s Day. As the number of Irish in the United States grew, St Patrick’s Day changed from a religious day, to a celebration of Irish heritage.

These days over 30 million American’s have Irish Ancestry. This is enormous, considering Ireland only has a population of around 7 million.

So now I know all about St Patrick’s Day, can I join in?

Of course! You don’t have to be Irish to join in the fun! A great way to participate is to dress in green and head to the St Patrick’s Day Parade. The New York City St Patrick’s Day Parade is world famous and includes traditional music, cultural groups, brass bands and lots of fun. The parade route can be found here. Contrary to the image of drunken craziness, the Parade in New York is alcohol free. The regular rules apply to drinking in public and police monitor this closely. It is also a good idea to leave large backpacks at home. Security is important and large bags will be searched. If you want to avoid the crowds, the parade will also be live-streamed by NBC here.

Many bars and restaurants will have St Patrick’s Day specials, so there will be tonnes of ways to enjoy the festivities. Just remember that St Patrick’s Day is a cultural celebration and to be respectful. But most of all have fun!

Fun facts

Did you know that the first ever St Patrick’s Day Parade was not held in Ireland, but in Boston in 1732.

We all know that Ireland’s color is green… but is it? Originally, the Irish national color was blue! Soldiers in the 1798 Irish rebellion wore green as they fought the British and from then on, shamrock green became a symbol of Irish national pride and independence.

St Patrick’s Day is held during Lent (the Catholic fasting period before Easter). Did you know that the Church officially lifted the rules of Lent for one day on March 17? This is why traditionally people ate and drank to excess on St Patrick’s Day.

There are more than 100 St Patrick’s Day Parades held across the United States each year

A little more than 20% of the population of Massachusetts has Irish heritage. That is over 1.3 million people!