The history of St. Patrick’s Day
By: William M. Mingus, III
“Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona!” No, that isn’t gibberish. That is how you say ‘Happy St. Patrick’s Day’ in Irish, or Gaelic. St. Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of St. Patrick, is a cultural and religious celebration dating back to the death date of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. The day commemorates St. Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and celebrated the heritage and culture of the Irish in general.
Patrick was a 5th century missionary and bishop in Ireland. Much of what is known about Patrick comes from a book called the Declaration, which was allegedly written by Patrick himself. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church. At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland.
He spent six years working as a shepherd and during this time he “found God”. God told Patrick to flee to the coast where a ship would be waiting to take him home. Patrick did make his way home and went on to become a priest. According to tradition, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert thousands of pagan Irish to Christianity. Patrick’s efforts against the druids were eventually turned into the allegory in which he drove the “snakes” out of Ireland. Ireland never had snakes.
In Ireland, St. Patrick’s feast day is a national day. It was celebrated by the Irish in the ninth and tenth centuries. In the early 1600s it became a holy day of obligation for the Roman Catholics and a feast day in the Church of Ireland. In 1940 and in 2008, the celebration was observed on different dates to avoid conflicting with Holy Week. However, this will not happen again until 2160. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Waterford in 1903 and the first official, state-sponsored St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in Dublin in 1931.
Here in the United States New York hosts the country’s (and the world’s) largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration, with more that two million people gathering for the city’s parade. The tradition itself dates back to 1762, making the parade older than the Unites States itself. However, unlike Mardi Gras, there are no floats or cars allowed in the parade, instead the parade features bands, bagpipe, and dancers and usually has between 150,000 to 250,000 participants.
In Chicago, on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, more than 400,000 people gather along the Chicago River to watch 45 pounds of environmentally safe vegetable dye turn the murky river green. After the river is dyed, spectators gather for the city’s parade at noon, which usually lasts about three hours.
In closing, I want to wish you a Happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day and leave you with this Irish blessing:
“For each petal on the shamrock,
This brings a wish your way:
Good health, good luck and happiness
For today and every day.”