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St Patrick's Day

Amy Reece

Posted on March 16 2017

The Facts, Myths And Traditions Of St Patrick's Day

St Patrick's Day is something that is celebrated by many countries with some of the largest celebrations being in the United States. However, many of the people who go to the Irish pub or parade on this day do not actually know the history behind it. They know that it has something to do with St Patrick, but they do not know about the man or the myths and traditions that come with this day.

The Man Behind The Day

The modern celebration of St Patrick's Day has very little to do with the saint it is connected with. The first inconsistency is the fact that St Patrick was not actually Irish. He was an aristocrat from Britain who was born in 390 AD to a Christian family. As a child, he had little interest in Christianity beyond what his family practiced.

This changed when he was 16 and kidnapped. His kidnappers sold him as a slave and he was sent to Ireland to tend sheep for 7 years. According to the legend, at the end of 7 years, a voice came to Patrick in his dreams and told him how to escape. He was able to find safe passage on a pirate ship which took him back to Britain where he reconnected with his family.

Once he was back in Britain the voice returned and told him he needed to go back to Ireland. This is when Patrick was ordained as a priest and went back to Ireland. His mission was to try and convert the Irish pagans to Christianity. However, this mission was not an easy one as he was constantly attacked in Ireland, harassed by the Irish royalty and admonished by his superiors in Britain. When he died on March 17, 461, he was largely forgotten until centuries later when myths started to grow about him and what he achieved in Ireland.

Why People Wear A Shamrock

One of the modern traditions of celebrating St Patrick's Day is the wearing of a shamrock or 3 leaf clover. According to the stories about St Patrick, he used this little plant as a means of describing the holy trinity to the Irish he was trying to convert. Each leaf would represent one part of the trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The custom of wearing the shamrock dates back to the 17th century. However, there is not actually anything traditionally Irish about the shamrock. There are species of 3 leaf clovers across Europe and there is no documented evidence to state that St Patrick used the clover at all during his lifetime.

No Snakes In Ireland

One of the myths that led to St Patrick being the figure he is today states that he banished all of the snakes from Ireland. This is one of the reasons why he was made the patron saint of Ireland. However, there is little basis for this claim as Ireland never actually had any snakes.

Ireland is surrounded by the icy waters of the Irish Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. This means that it would have been impossible for snakes to migrate from Britain or anywhere else to Ireland. However, many people believe that the idea of St Patrick driving out the snakes had a deeper meaning.

In literature, snakes are often used as a physical representation of evil. This means that when the stories were told of St Patrick he was not driving out actual snakes, but the evil pagan ways of the Irish. It is likely that this story was created and spread, along with that of the shamrock, by monks centuries after St Patrick's death.

Modern Day Celebrations

St Patrick's Day was only a minor religious holiday for people in Ireland until the 1970's. On the day, priests would acknowledge the feast day and families would celebrate with a meal. However, scholars have attributed the creation of modern day St Patrick's Day to Irish-Americans.

When the first Irish immigrants came to America the original Irish charitable organizations would hold banquets in certain cities to celebrate the day. However, it was 18th-century Irish soldiers who brought the parades as a means of reconnecting with their Irish roots.

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