St. Patrick's Day History and Celebrations

St. Patrick's Day Parade in Houston
Image by Sarah Worthy
St. Patrick's Day, which was originally a Catholic holiday, is now a recognized all over the world as a celebration of Irish Culture.

St. Patrick, Pádraig in Gaelic Irish,  is the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17th each year, to commemorate the death of the saint in 461 AD.

Originally St. Patrick's Day was a Catholic holiday. It was made an official feast day early in the 17th Century. St.  Patrick's Day was made an official public holiday in 1903. Northern Ireland also celebrates a Bank Holiday on St. Patrick's Day.

The first known St. Patrick's Day Parade was held in Boston, USA, in 1737. The first parade in Ireland was held in Dublin in 1931.

In the mid-1990s the Irish Government launched an initiative to use St. Patrick's Day as a way to showcase Ireland and Irish culture. As part of the initiative an annual St Patrick's Day Festival is held in Dublin.

St. Patrick's Day Customs

It is documented that the tradition of wearing shamrocks in celebration of St. Patrick's Day had started by the early 17th Century. St. Patrick is believed to have used the 3-leaved shamrock as a way of demonstrating the Holy Trinity in his sermons to Irish pagans. A song about wearing shamrock is the source of the phrase "the wearing of the green".

Many people wear a green ribbon on their clothing on St. Patrick's Day, a tradition that can be traced back to the 17th Century.

These days, the color green is synonymous with celebrating St. Patrick's Day. People in many parts of the world over wear green clothes, eat green food, and even drink green drinks. Green food colourings are used to colour such drinks.

No celebration of St. Patrick's Day is complete without traditional Irish dancing, singing, and music.

St Patrick's Day Festival and Parade in Dublin

The first St Patrick's Day Festival in Dublin was held on St Patrick's Day, March 17th, in 1996. The next year, 1997, the festival lasted three days, and in 2000 it became a four day festival. In 2006, the festival was extended to five days, and lately it has become a six day festival. If this trend continues, it may become a year-round celebration! It is estimated that about 700,00 attend the parade on St. Patrick's Day itself, and about 1 million people visit the festival in total.

St Patrick's Day Parades and Celebrations Around The World

St. Patrick's Day celebrations are held in many cities around the world. The Irish like to say that they will occur wherever there are two Irishmen, and often wherever there's only one.

In the USA, the Chicago river has been dyed green every year since 1962, by using vegetable dyes. That first year the river stayed green for a week, but these days it only lasts for a few hours. In New York, the world's largest St Patrick's Day Parade is held. It is estimated that there are 150,000 participants in the Parade, and at least two million spectators.

In the UK, Birmingham holds the third largest Parade in the world, with only New York and Dublin being bigger. Liverpool, the UK city which has the highest proportion of citizens of Irish ancestry due largely to its history as a port, has a strong tradition of celebrating St. Patrick's Day with music, culture, and a Parade.

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