The History of St. Patrick's Day
By Alecia Dixon with additional reporting by Laura Young
St. Patrick's Day is an Irish holiday celebrated all around the globe to honor the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick. Read on to learn more about the origin of the holiday and about the man who inspired it or visit our "Fun Facts about St. Patrick's Day" story.
When Is St. Patrick's Day?
Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated each year on March 17th.
Note for 2008: For 2008, the Catholic Church has officially moved St. Patrick's Day to Saturday, March 15th to avoid a conflict with the Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday. Most secular establishments in the US and Canada, such as restaurants and bars, will continue to celebrate the holiday on March 17th, and the 17th will remain a national day off from work in Ireland.
Who Was Saint Patrick?
Even though Saint Patrick the patron saint of Ireland and one of the most celebrated religious figures around the world, the factual information about his life and times is quite vague. Most information about St. Patrick has been twisted, embellished, or simply made up over centuries by storytellers, causing much ambiguity about the real life of St. Patrick. However, there are a some elements of his story about which most scholars accept to be true.
According to Coilin Owens, Irish literature expert and Professor Emeritus of English at George Mason University, Saint Patrick is traditionally thought to have lived "between 432-461 A.D., but more recent scholarship moves the dates up a bit." At the age of sixteen he was kidnapped from his native land of the Roman British Isles by a band pirates, and sold into slavery in Ireland. Saint Patrick worked as a shepherd and turned to religion for solace. After six years of slavery he escaped to the Irish coast and fled home to Britain.
While back in his homeland, Patrick decided to become a priest and then decided to return to Ireland after dreaming that the voices of the Irish people were calling him to convert them to Christianity.
After studying and preparing for several years, Patrick traveled back to Ireland as a Christian missionary. Although there were already some Christians living in Ireland, St. Patrick was able to bring upon a massive religious shift to Christianity by converting people of power. Says Prof. Owens, "[St. Patrick] is credited with converting the nobles; who set an example which the people followed."
But Patrick's desire to spread of Christianity was not met without mighty opposition. Prof. Owens explains, "Patrick ran into trouble with the local pagan priesthood, the druids: and there are many stories about his arguments with them as well as his survival of plots against them." He laid the groundwork for the establishment of hundreds of monasteries and churches that eventually popped up across the Irish country to promote Christianity.
Saint Patrick is also credited with bringing written word to Ireland through the promotion of the study of legal texts and the Bible, says Prof. Owens. Previous to Patrick, storytelling and history were reliant on memory and orally passing down stories.
Patrick's mission in Ireland is said to have lasted for thirty years. It is believe he died in the 5th century on March 17, which is the day St. Patrick's Day is commemorated each year.
The first year St. Patrick's Day was celebrated in America in 1737 in Boston, Massachusetts. The first official St. Patrick's Day parade was held in New York City in 1766. As the saying goes, on this day "everybody is Irish!" Over 100 U.S. cities now hold Saint Patrick's Day parades.
Alecia Dixon is a freelance contributor. Laura Young is editor of Crafts and Holidays & Fun on Kaboose.com.
Learn More about St. Patrick's Day
- Fun Facts About St. Patrick's Day and Saint Patrick
- St. Patrick's Day Books for Kids
- All About St. Patrick's Day Holiday
- St. Patrick's Day Crafts for Kids