Saint Patrick’s Day – The Most Famous Holiday in Ireland

Saint Patrick's Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick, is a cultural and religious celebration held on 17 March, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick - the most important patron saint of Ireland.

Saint Patrick's Day commemorates the entrance of Christianity in Ireland, as well as the Irish heritage and culture in general. Public parades and festivals are common, as are céilis and the wearing of green clothing or shamrocks.

This day is also known as the Feast of Saint Patrick because of its roots in Christianity. The day was meant to be the commemoration after the 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert.

On this day, restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted, which is meant to encourage the assumption of alcohol. As such, people often dance, drink, and throw a feast to celebrate.

Who Was Saint Patrick?

Who Was Saint Patrick
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Saint Patrick was most notably known as the patron saint of Ireland. Although the specifics of his dates of life remain unsettled, he is believed to have lived in the fifth century.

It was said that he was never officially canonised, as he is said to have lived prior to the inception of the current laws of the Catholic Church. Regardless, he is widely revered as a Saint in both the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Not Actually Irish

Contrary to popular belief, Saint Patrick wasn't actually Irish. According to Patrick’s autobiographical Confessio, when he was sixteen, Irish pirates nabbed him from his home in Britain, took him to Ireland, and made him into a slave.

He survived being a slave for six years before fleeing and returning to his home. Once he had become an ecclesiastic, he went back to Ireland. Later on in his life, he served as a bishop, but the specifics of where he worked remained elusive. By the 7th century, he had already been venerated as the patron saint of Ireland, as he was credited to have been the one who brought Christianity to Ireland.

How Did St Patrick Become A Saint?

His life was filled with mysteries and myths, and the tales in his name became more and more ingrained in Irish culture. One of the most notable of those mythologies is the legend of Saint Patrick, in that he allegedly explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) using the three-clover shamrock, a type of leaf native to Ireland.

The many unconfirmable details about his life brought lots of doubts to his name. His uncertain dates of life, his vague record, his self-proclaimed slavery, etc, are reasons for doubters to taint his name. Many went as far as even questioning his existence.

Some didn’t go that far but did question whether things that have been traditionally associated with him were his deeds all along. An Irish academic named T. F. O'Rahilly proposed the "Two Patricks" theory.

It suggested that many traditions associated with Saint Patrick actually stemmed from Palladius, one of the earliest clerics of Ireland and a contemporary of Saint Patrick. Although the theory is highly controversial, it did raise quite a few eyebrows about just how much we “know” of Saint Patrick was true.

Why Do We Celebrate Saint Patrick's Day?

Why Do We Celebrate Saint Patrick's Day
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The reasons for celebrating Saint Patrick's Day have evolved and expanded over time. There is a variety of cultural, historical, and religious elements involved.

Religious Origins

Many people will find it surprising that Saint Patrick’s Day was never meant to be a holiday. Saint Patrick's Day was first established as a modest religious holiday in honour of the patron saint.

As it fell right in the middle of a stringent fasting period, it was seen as an opportunity to break away from all of the restraints and abstinence. It wasn’t until 1904 that it was recognised as a public holiday in Ireland.

The very first recorded St. Patrick's Day celebration didn't take place in Ireland but in what is now St. Augustine, Florida. On March 17, 1601, a parade was held in this Spanish colony, led by the Irish vicar Ricardo Artur.

Modern-Day Saint Patrick’s Day

The celebration of this holiday as we see today has a lot more to do with the immigrants rather than natives. More specifically, the Irish immigrants in America. Parades began to pop up in big US cities in the 1700s.

The pivotal moment on March 17, 1772, when homesick Irish soldiers serving in the English military paraded through the streets of New York, marked the beginning of this tradition.

The enthusiasm permeated into many other major cities in the world like New York, Boston, etc. Over the following years, thanks to the surging Irish patriotism, several so-called “Irish Aid” emerged, including the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and the Hibernian Society, who would proceed to organise parades with bagpipes and drums.

In 1848, a number of Irish Aid societies based in New York decided to unite their parades into one official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. To this day, that remains the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the USA, with over 150,000 people joining. Today, nearly 3 million people line the 1.5-mile parade route to watch the five-hour procession yearly.

Is It Bad Luck Not To Wear Green On St Patrick's Day?

Is It Bad Luck Not To Wear Green On St Patrick's Day
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While the tradition of wearing green on St. Patrick's Day is widespread, not wearing it is not actually considered bad luck. Many associate St. Patrick's Day with the saying "wear green or get pinched," suggesting some form of bad luck awaits those who don't participate. 

The association of green with Ireland likely stems from its nickname, the "Emerald Isle," a reference to its lush green landscape. Additionally, shamrocks, a national symbol, may have contributed to the colour's popularity.

Today, wearing green is more about celebrating Irish heritage and having fun than avoiding bad luck. While some playfully pinch those not in green, it's more a joke than a serious belief.

10 Things to Do on Saint Patrick’s Day

There are plenty of things to do on Saint Patrick’s Day. So, whether you’re planning to partake in the parade or stay at home, do some of the below to bathe in the atmosphere of the holiday.

1. Learn more about Saint Patrick’s Day

The day’s history dates back to the fifth century, and it’s certainly rich and fascinating. One should never walk away on the cusp of knowledge, so if you’re still in the dark about the history of Saint Patrick’s Day, this is the perfect chance to learn more.

2. Get a Shamrock Shake

Created in 1967 by McDonald’s owner Hal Rosen, this mint-flavoured, bright green smoothie slash milkshake has been a popular seasonal speciality that is widely enjoyed by many people on Saint Patrick’s Day.

3. Dress up in green

What other colour to wear on Saint Patrick’s Day other than green? But why not make use of this opportunity to go completely overboard on this day? Everyone is going to love it! Break out your greenest piece of clothing! 

4. Drink Green Beer

Green Ber seems odd, but anything that isn't green isn’t normal on Saint Patrick’s Day! Whether you love Guinness flavour or something else, make sure to booze some green bear in the spirit of the holiday. 

Drink Green Beer
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

5. Swig a pint of Guinness

If you don’t fancy some weird-looking, posh-green, out-of-whack beer (but let’s face it, if you don’t enjoy green, why are you even celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day?), you can also go old-school and enjoy the famous thick-and-rich dry stout. There’s a reason why approximately nearly 13 million pints of Guinness are consumed on St. Patrick's Day across the world. You’d know once you try it.

6. Plant Shamrock

Shamrock isn’t a plant that really brings about any herbs with medicinal benefits or whatnot, but it was never meant to be one. The whole schtick of it is it brings luck. What better day to plant one in your garden other than Saint Patrick’s Day? Who knows? You may end up having a four-clover soon.

7. Bake some Soda Bread

Soda bread is quick and easy. Simple to make but delicious to taste. It’s also incredibly versatile as it can accompany many kinds of food, from stews to sauces. Being one of the most favourite Irish foods there are, it’s one to make for a festive feeling of Saint Patrick’s Day? 

8. Corned Beef and Cabbage

When the Irish immigrants in the US struggled to find bacon, they used corned beef instead for their traditional bacon and cabbage. The result is the now world-famous classic Irish dish, corned beef and cabbage. Super simple to make but takes nice and earthy, a dish definitely having frequently, or at least, on Saint Patrick’s Day.

9. Binge-watching Some Irish Series

If you’re a movie lover, but you’re really struggling for time to enjoy a movie, Saint Patrick’s Day is a perfect excuse to indulge in a bit of an Irish movie marathon. Bake some soda bread, get yourself some green beer, prepare some corned beef and cabbage, and you’re ready to binge away. 

10. Create an Irish Playlist

What other way to bathe yourself in the holiday spirit of Saint Patrick’s Day than drowning in some Irish songs? If you don’t really know your way around Irish music, this is the time to make a playlist dedicated to those songs.

Irish flag in New York city
Photo by Damien Perez on Unsplash


1. Why Is St Patrick's Day Associated With Luck?

Saint Patrick's Day's association with luck stems from a combination of various elements and stories:

  • Shamrock and the Trinity: Legend has it that St. Patrick used the three-leaf shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity.
  • Four-Leaf Clover: While not directly related to St. Patrick, the rare four-leaf clover, a variation of the shamrock, became intertwined with Irish folklore as a charm against evil spirits and a bringer of good luck. 
  • "The Luck of the Irish": This phrase originated in the 19th century, primarily in the context of Irish immigrants in America.
  • Leprechaun Mythology: Though not directly linked to St. Patrick, the mischievous folklore creatures known as leprechauns and their hidden pots of gold add another layer of luck and whimsy to the day.

2. Why Is St Patrick's Day Green?

Wearing green on St. Patrick's Day has simply become a fun and festive tradition. How the colour becomes the identity of the holiday is thanks to various reasons. Firstly, it’s owning to the Shamrocks - a potent symbol of both the saint and Ireland. And then there’s the lush landscape of the country and the Irish flag.

Another reason is how Irish immigrants drove the celebrations into major festivities during the 19th and 20th centuries. The emphasis on green became stronger here, partly due to the celebration's commercialisation and its association with leprechauns, often depicted wearing green clothes.

3. Is St Patrick's Day always on March 17th?

Yes, St. Patrick's Day is always celebrated on March 17th, regardless of the day of the week it falls on. Starting somewhere in the 9th or 10th century, in Ireland, people have been observing March 17 as the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick.

A Day of Unity and Remembrance

Beyond the parades and the green beer, Saint Patrick's Day is a day that celebrates cultural identity and unity. It's a story of a people and their saint whose legacy transcends borders and generations. In embracing the full spectrum of Saint Patrick's Day, we find not just a reason to celebrate but a rich tapestry of culture and history that invites exploration and appreciation year after year.

Khoa Pham

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