St. Patrick's Day: From beginning to now - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

St. Patrick's Day: From beginning to now

St. Patrick's stature grew in Ireland over the centuries, and around the 9th or 10th century Irish Christians began observing a feast day in his honor on March 17, the day he departed this wicked world. (Source: Pixabay) St. Patrick's stature grew in Ireland over the centuries, and around the 9th or 10th century Irish Christians began observing a feast day in his honor on March 17, the day he departed this wicked world. (Source: Pixabay)

(RNN) – St. Patrick’s Day is here again, and that means corned beef and cabbage and green clovers, clothes and rivers – and a whole lot of beer.

But the annual bacchanal has its Guinness-soaked roots in the life of a man named Maewyn Succat, who hailed from the once-Roman province of Britain.

According to historical sources (and legend), Maewyn was born around 390 A.D. to an aristocratic Christian family, though Maewyn himself wasn’t particularly drawn to the family faith.

His comfortable life abruptly ended at the age of 16, when Irish pirates broke into his family’s villa and kidnapped him to Ireland, where they sold him into slavery.

For several years Maewyn was forced to work as a shepherd, an experience that drew him closer to God.

"After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day," he wrote in his “Confessions.”

One day Maewyn heard a voice telling him to return home, and so he gave his masters the slip and walked hundreds of miles to the nearest port, where he was able to convince the captain of a Britain-bound ship to take him aboard.

But instead of kicking back at the family homestead, he again left Britain, this time for continental Europe, where he became a priest.

Then he heard the same voice that once told him to flee the Emerald Isle, except this time it was telling him to return to country of his enslavement. And so he returned to Ireland as a missionary to convert the native druids.

It wasn’t easy going for Maewyn back in Ireland – he apparently clashed with local officials, and wrote about getting beaten, robbed, arrested, and almost executed during his mission.

And somewhere along the way he started going by the name “Patricius” – aka Patrick – which he got from the Latin term that roughly translates to “father figure.” 

Legend says he also fought witches, turned his walking stick into a tree and banished all the snakes from Ireland; some historians read the snake banishment story as mere metaphor, with the symbol of snakes filling in for the polytheistic pagan roots of the island, which the missionary severed.

Backing up the metaphorical nature of the snake episode is the educated guess that snakes never lived in Ireland at all, since the cold waters surrounding the island made snake transit from Britain unlikely.

And as far as Patrick single-handedly converting pagan Ireland, some historical sources claim that Christianity had already begun taking hold before his re-arrival. But legend has it Patrick made big strides by confronting the druids at Tara, an ancient religious and political site, where he abolished their pagan rites and paved the way for making Christianity more widespread.

Either way, after Patrick’s death – which is believed to have been on March 17, 461 – the legends surrounding the missionary grew, and became ingrained in Irish culture.

One of the best-known legends is how he used the three-leaf clover, today the symbol of St. Patrick’s Day, to teach the Irish the concept of the holy trinity.

The Church eventually canonized Patrick, and today he’s Ireland’s patron saint – an honor he shares with St. Brigid of Kildare and St. Columba. In time, St. Patrick would also become the patron saint of engineers, paralegals, Nigeria, Newark, Missouri, Melbourne, among others.

St. Patrick's stature grew in Ireland over the centuries, and around the 9th or 10th century Irish Christians began observing a feast day in his honor on March 17, the day he departed this wicked world.

The Church stamped its own approval on the feast day in 1631, when the Vatican officially recognized it.

The feast day falls on the Christian season of Lent, during which Christians are supposed to give up a vice. St. Patrick’s Day gave the faithful a reprieve from Lenten prohibitions, and on that one day they could dance and drink all they wanted. They could also eat their fill, typically of the traditional Irish meal of bacon and cabbage.

Around the 1720s, church leaders thought the celebration day was getting a little out of hand, and so they decided to remind celebrants of the holy reason for the feast by assigning St. Patrick the lucky shamrock as his own symbol (assigning botanical items to saints is customary).

So while the hedonistic foundations of the modern St. Patrick’s Day were laid in its native Ireland, it was in the United States that many of the current March 17 traditions developed.

Though the exact date of the first St. Patrick’s Day parade is debatable, many sources agree that it happened in 1762 in New York City, when Irish soldiers marched down the streets playing their traditional music as a way to bring their fellow Irish immigrants together in a show of national pride.

Over time, as more Irish immigrants came to America – in even greater numbers after 1845, the year of the Irish Potato Famine – more St. Patrick’s Day parades and other celebrations were held across the country among the Irish communities in cities like Boston and Chicago.

And about all that green: That comes not just from St. Patrick’s shamrock, but also from the Irish Rebellion of 1798, when green officially became associated with the celebration. Until the rebellion, the color associated with St. Patrick was blue, since that color was featured on ancient Irish flags and in the royal court of Ireland.

All the green is also due to the color’s associations with springtime, and with Ireland itself, its nickname being the “Emerald Isle” and all.

One famous tradition involving the color green involves the Chicago River. Starting in 1962, the city has poured green dye into the river to celebrate the special day. We can trace the practice back to when city workers used colored dyes to trace illegal sewage discharges. They realized they could also use the river dye to make city's St. Patrick’s Day celebration stand out, and not just to bust criminals.  

The practice of pinching those unfortunates not wearing green on March 17 started in America too. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the practice comes from early American celebrants’ belief that wearing green would make them invisible to leprechauns. They believed the little creatures would pinch whomever they could find, but fortunately, leprechauns couldn’t see green.

Also according to The Christian Science Monitor, the tradition of eating corned beef and cabbage started in America too. It possibly began when Irish immigrants in New York bought their meat from kosher butchers, where they could only get corned beef and not the bacon they typically ate back home.

As for the copious beer: Some have tied the association between beer and the American version of St. Patrick’s Day with an advertising campaign from Budweiser in the 1980s to connect the two.

Barhopping certainly wasn’t a part of St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland until the 1970s. Until then, Irish law mandated that pubs remained closed on March 17. And it wasn’t until the mid-90s that the Irish government began promoting the holiday with parades and concerts, in an effort to bring in tourists.

These days, there are more than 100 St. Patrick’s Day parades held every year in the U.S. In New York, nearly 3 million people show up to watch parade marchers move along their 1.5-mile route. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Savannah hold parades that each involve between 10,000 and 20,000 participants.

All right, so now that you've made it through the history, go ahead and celebrate a little. And check out these links if you're looking for some St. Paddy's Day treats:

Irish Stew for St. Patrick's Day

Top Hat S’mores

Pretend You’re Irish with this Green Drink

This Lucky Charms Milkshake Is the Perfect St. Patrick’s Day Treat

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