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A History of St. Patrick's Day

December 28th, 2012 Seasonal

St. Patrick's Day has been being celebrated in America for centuries and in Ireland for over a thousand years. Its roots go back to Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and his quest to convert the people of Ireland to Christianity. However, many people don't know the true origins of the many myths surrounding St. Patrick's Day.

Saint Patrick
Although he is the pride of the Irish people, Saint Patrick was actually not Irish, notes a Houston affiliate of CBS. Patrick was born in Britain but was kidnapped and forced into slavery in Ireland at a young age. He tended flocks of sheep for about seven years before he got his first message from above telling him to run away. Luckily he was able to escape and return to Britain and his family aboard a British pirate ship.

Before long, however, Patrick got a second message from on high telling him to return to Ireland and convert its people to Christianity, so he soon returned to the Emerald Isle after being ordained a priest. Converting the people of Ireland to Christianity was no easy task however, as he was often assaulted for his beliefs and was not held in favor by Ireland's rulers at the time. While it was easier said than done, the saint eventually was able to convert many people to Christianity, often using his famous interpretation of the Holy Trinity through use of a shamrock. 

The saint was nowhere near as famous as he is today at the time he died on March 17th, A.D. 461. However, he soon became somewhat of a mythic figure, in part from the claims that he drove all the snakes from Ireland, although National Geographic notes that there likely never where any.

The parades
Until more recent times, St. Patrick's Day. was a very reverent celebration in Ireland, including church in the morning and a traditional meal in the evening. In fact, Irish law stated that pubs had to be closed on the holiday until the 1970s. The rise of tourism eventually caused Ireland to loosen up on its holiday and it now more closely resembles the celebrations that occur in so many parts of the world.

The first parade actually took place in the United States in New York in 1762 to honor Irish troops in the army. In the next few decades, these celebrations grew and were started in other major cities with large Irish populations like Chicago and Boston. The parades slowly began to take on the revelry that they feature today.

In the early 20th century, the parades took on a different meaning. Over a million impoverished Irish fled to America during the potato famine, but they often faced discrimination. This new influx of Irish citizens had trouble finding work and enjoying many of the cultural and religious traditions they had in such great abundance in Ireland. However, the celebration of Saint Patrick's Day soon began to make it apparent that the Irish people had the ability to influence politics and their nation as a whole, so it became an essential stopping point for politicians seeking the "Green Machine," or the massive Irish vote, notes The History Channel.

Many cities have their own, unique traditions that go along with their parades, such as Chicago's green-tinted river. Many major U.S. urban centers, as well as places as far as Australia and Japan, have embraced their own versions of the holiday that for many is about getting together for fun and merriment with friends and family.