St. Patrick’s Day is a beloved tradition around the world, but amid all the green wearing, pinching, shamrock decorating and Guinness toasting, how many know the history behind the day and the saint himself? Read and learn about the history of St. Patrick’s Day, and you may even be able to take some tidbits of knowledge and impress your mates at the local pub.
Who was St. Patrick, and why do millions of drunken revelers celebrate his day every year on March 17? St. Patrick is now considered by many to be Ireland’s patron saint. Even though he has become a highly decorated figure in Ireland’s history, there are a lot of misconceptions around his true background and legend. Some may have heard the story of how he banished all of the snakes from Ireland, but the reality is that story is simply not true. Thank thousands of years of exaggerated gossiping and storytelling for that falsehood.
The real story goes something like this: St. Patrick was born just Patrick to well-off British parents around the end of the fourth century. It is thought that he died on March 17 (which makes sense, as this is now the day St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated) around the date 460 A.D. Patrick’s father was actually a Christian deacon, but it’s thought that he wasn’t a deacon for the religious aspect, but rather for the tax breaks. Because his father wasn’t drawn toward religion, it’s thought that Patrick didn’t get his religious influences from inside his family.
At the age of sixteen, a group or raiders laid siege upon Patrick’s family’s home, taking him captive in the process. The raiders took Patrick away with them to Ireland, where he spent the next six years working and toiling in solitude. While in captivity, Patrick’s role was that of a shepherd, with only his sheep for company. Frightened, lonely and isolated, he turned to God and religion for guidance, and became a devout Christian.
At the end of his sixth year in captivity, Patrick heard the voice of God speak to him, telling him that it was time to leave Ireland. Upon receiving this message, Patrick escaped his captors, walking nearly 200 miles from County Mayo (where it is believed he was held) back to his homeland of Britain. A little while after arriving in Britain, Patrick received yet another message from God. This one was urging him to actually return to Ireland, to help spread the good word of Christianity.
Patrick took this message very seriously, and launched himself into nearly fifteen years of missionary training and education. After his education was complete and he was ordained as a priest, Patrick was sent to Ireland to spread the message of his religion and convert those not already following it.
Many can become a priest, but what earned Patrick his saint status? He was familiar with Irish and Celtic cultural and historical beliefs, and he used those to help give the Irish something they could relate to within Christianity. He didn’t ask the Irish to give up their rituals, and instead focused on weaving them into his teachings.
Because the Irish people were used to celebrating their Gods with fire, Patrick used bonfires to celebrate the Easter holiday. It is also thought that Patrick created what is now known as the Celtic cross by incorporating the sun, a prevalent Irish symbol, onto the already existing Christian cross. Because of kindness and willingness to work with the beliefs of the native people of Ireland, he was bestowed with the honor of saint.
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