The Origin of St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day was not originally intended to give you an excuse to drink copious amounts of Guinness and throw up on all over your green clothing.  Quite the contrary! St. Patrick’s Day has deep spiritual and cultural significance and is observed by several sects of Christianity:  Catholicism, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran.  But how did it start?

Origin of St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick, given name “Maewyn Succat”, is the patron saint of Ireland and is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland.  The story goes that he was kidnapped from Britain at the age of 16 and taken to Ireland as a slave.  He worked as a shepherd in Ireland for six years before a dream told him to escape Ireland and go to the coast where a ship would be waiting to take him home.  Before St. Patrick, the Irish were primarily Celtic pagans, a polytheistic religion with more than 200 deities.  Celtic paganism was also a very animistic religion meaning non-animal entities such as trees, rocks, streams, etc were considered to have spirits.  St. Patrick wasn’t a fan of rocks having spirits so when he returned to Britain he became a bishop and returned to Ireland in 432 AD, this time by his own volition, to convert Ireland from Celtic paganism to Christianity.

One of the most popular stories (which I was taught in my Catholic grade school) is that St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Trinity.  All three leaves are part of the same plant, which portray the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit as three parts to one whole.

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Two more legends about St. Patrick:

  • He drove the snakes from Ireland.  Unfortunately, biologists agree that there wouldn’t have been any snakes in Ireland to drive out in the first place because the glaciers killed them all.  More likely this is a parable about how St Patrick drove the Druids (pagan priests) out of Ireland.
  • After he was done with the snakes, St. Patrick also banished a dragon to a lake in Ireland.  The dragon will be imprisoned there until Judgement Day.  I don’t envy the poor fisherman who’s on the lake that day!

March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day, the date of his death (either in 460 or 493 AD).   In the early 1600s, St. Patrick’s Day became a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church.  A Holy Day of Obligation is a day where church attendance is mandatory.   It became an official public holiday in Ireland in 1903.  However, the first official St. Patrick’s Day Festival was not held in Ireland until 1996, when Ireland decided it was finally time to use St. Patrick’s Day as a way to celebrate Ireland’s culture.

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many countries, including Argentina, Canada, England, Japan, South Korea and the United States.  Each country or even city celebrates St. Patrick’s Day in their own way. My way is the Chicago way.


In the Windy City we dye the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day.  Don’t worry!  The chemicals used are safe for humans and animals alike.

The South Side Irish Parade is also a popular Chicago tradition.   It was cancelled in 2010 due to an overwhelming number of attendees and the unprecedented drunken stupidity of said attendees.  However, the Chicago Irish fought hard to keep it alive and a more “family-friendly” South Side Irish Parade was last weekend!

The Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade will also happen this weekend in downtown Chicago.  It’s a much more low-key parade and hasn’t changed much since it was featured in the Fugitive:

Now that you know some of the real history behind St. Patrick’s Day, enjoy and Erin Go Bragh! (Ireland Forever!)

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