Today if one were to travel to Ireland in for Saint Patrick’s Day one would likely see a wide variation in how the Irish celebrate this holiday. For many, Saint Patrick’s Day has become ubiquitous with leprechauns, shamrocks, parades, and green beer. However, the origins of the holiday are much more somber.
Most history on St. Patrick agrees that he lived in Roman occupied Britain and died on March 17th around 493 A.D. As a young adult, it is said, he was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland, but was able, after a number of years, able to return to his family. He also entered the church upon his return as the men of his family had for two generations. His connection to Ireland continued when he returned as a missionary.
The popular myth about St. Patrick is that he chased all the snakes out of Ireland. While this is unlikely by simple logic, science also provides us with the perspective that there have probably been no snakes in Ireland since before the Ice Age. The so-called snakes are more than likely a metaphor for pagans, many of whom worshiped snakes or serpent-like gods.
After Luke Wadding, Franciscan scholar, secured St. Patrick’s sainthood, March 17th became a religious feast day celebrating St. Patrick’s spreading of Christianity to Ireland. It was actually a fairly somber occasion that included a special mass and the pubs were in fact closed.
The modern St. Patrick’s Day probably evolved from the parade tradition in New York City that was begun in 1766 by Irish members of the British army. The Irish were often not welcome immigrants to the United States, with many Americans believe untrue and exaggerated stereo-types about them. The parade developed as a way for Irish-Americans to celebrate their heritage.
In fact, the modern celebration including all things green and shamrocks didn’t take hold in Ireland until the 1960’s. However, these days even the Irish government sees it as an opportunity for publicity.