21 Things You Didn’t Know About St. Patrick’s Day
The day we associate with massive amounts of beer drinking actually started as a religious holiday and—spoiler alert—St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish!
St. Patrick wasn’t Irish
Although Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, he was actually born in Roman-occupied Britain in the fourth century to wealthy parents who might have converted to the Christian faith for the tax break. Don’t miss these other St. Patrick’s Day “facts” that are actually false.
He didn’t go to Ireland by choice
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The young Patrick was kidnapped and sold into slavery by Irish raiders who robbed his family home when he was only 16 years old. Most historians think the young Patrick was enslaved in County Mayo near Killala where he would have done the solitary work of tending to sheep. It was here, in forced exile, that he reclaimed the Christian faith he was born into.
St. Patrick did not chase snakes out of Ireland
St. Patrick did convert many pagans to Christianity, but the story of his driving all the snakes out of Ireland during his 40-day fast on a hilltop is bunk. Biologists think the reason Ireland is snake-free today is that the reptiles never migrated to the island in the first place. The legend of the snakes is probably just a metaphor for St. Patrick’s having driven evil out of Ireland.
St. Patrick invented the Celtic cross
Many Irish still practiced a nature-based religion and he used the symbols of their traditional faith, like the sun that he overlaid on the cross, to teach them about their new Christian one. He also used the symbol of fire to start the practice of celebrating Easter with bonfires. Find out the truth behind other Easter myths and legends.
St. Patrick is not an official saint
St. Patrick’s Day falls on the anniversary of Patrick’s death on March 17 in the fifth century. His followers in Ireland began to celebrate his feast day on that day during the ninth and tenth centuries, even though he was never formally canonized by a pope.
You used to celebrate the day in church
Since St. Patrick’s Day historically falls during the Christian holy month of Lent, people would go to morning mass before afternoon and evening festivities. And, because many Christians fast from red meat and sometimes alcohol, Christian leaders still give special dispensation to enjoy corned beef and Guinness just for the day.
The original color for St. Patrick’s Day was blue
St. Patrick is actually associated with the color blue, and his priestly vestments are painted that hue in many portraits of him. But after the Order of St. Patrick chose green as their official color, people celebrate by “the wearing of the green.”
The first parade wasn’t in America
Boston and New York both claim to have hosted the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the 1700s (though they quibble over the definition of a parade). That said, the first procession honoring the Irish saint may have taken place in 1601 when residents of the Spanish-speaking settlement of St. Augustine, Florida, marched through the streets in recognition of St. Patrick—or San Patricio, in this case—whom they considered the official protector of their fields of maize.
New York City’s parade is the oldest in America
Started in 1848, by Irish Aid societies that helped Irish immigrants families in the city, the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade is now the largest parade in the United States wrapping it’s way around 1.5 miles of the city. It’s joined by parades in other American cities including Chicago and Boston. Learn more about why we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.
The parade has a political history
Prejudice against Irish Catholics was rampant in the United States since they emigrated to the country after the Potato Famine in 1845. They used the parades to show their solidarity and call for social change. When President Harry S. Truman marched in the New York City parade in 1948, Irish Americans had finally arrived.