Saint Patrick’s Day (Irish: Lá Fhéile Pádraig) is a yearly holiday celebrated on 17 March. It is named after Saint Patrick (circa AD 387–461), the most commonly recognized of the patron saints of Ireland. It began as a purely Catholic holiday and became an official feast day in the early 1600s. However, it has gradually become more of a secular celebration of Ireland’s culture.
Little is known of Patrick’s early life, though it is known that he was born in Roman Britain in the fifth century, into a wealthy Romano-Britishfamily. His father and grandfather were deacons in the Church. At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken captive to Ireland as a slave. It is believed he was held somewhere on the west coast of Ireland, possibly Mayo, but the exact location is unknown. According to his Confession, he was told by God in a dream to flee from captivity to the coast, where he would board a ship and return to Britain. Upon returning, he quickly joined the Church in Auxerre in Gaul and studied to be a priest.
In 432, he again says that he was called back to Ireland, though as a bishop, to save the Irish, and indeed he was successful at this, focusing on converting royalty and aristocracy as well as the poor. Irish folklore tells that one of his teaching methods included using the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) to the Irish people. After nearly thirty years of teaching and spreading God’s Word he died on 17 March, 461 AD, and was buried at Downpatrick, so tradition says. Although there were other more successful missions to Ireland from Rome, Patrick endured as the principal champion of Irish Christianity and is held in esteem in the Irish Church.
Wearing of Green
Originally the colour associated with Saint Patrick was blue. However, over the years the colour green and its association with Saint Patrick’s day grew. Green ribbons and shamrocks were worn in celebration of St Patrick’s Day as early as the 17th century. He is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pre-Christian Irish, and the wearing and display of shamrocks and shamrock-inspired designs have become a ubiquitous feature of the day. Then in the 1798 rebellion in hopes of making a political statement Irish soldiers wore full green uniforms on 17 March in hopes of catching attention with their unusual fashion gimmick. The phrase “the wearing of the green”, meaning to wear a shamrock on one’s clothing, derives from the song of the same name.