Saint Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick is a cultural and religious celebration held on 17th March, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick, the foremost patron saint of Ireland.
Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day in the early 17th century. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks.
Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in some countries.
Patrick was a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. It is believed that he was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church.
According to tradition, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity.
Over the following centuries, many legends grew up around Patrick and he became Ireland’s foremost saint.
Celebration and traditions
Today’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations have been greatly influenced by those that developed among the Irish diaspora, especially in North America. Until the late 20th century, St Patrick’s Day was often a bigger celebration among the diaspora than it was in Ireland.
Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, céilithe (Irish traditional music sessions), and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. There are also formal gatherings such as banquets and dances, although these were more common in the past. St Patrick’s Day parades began in North America in the 18th century but did not spread to Ireland until the 20th century. The participants generally include marching bands, the military, fire brigades, cultural and charitable organisations, voluntary associations, youth groups, fraternities, and so on.
Wearing of the green
On St Patrick’s Day it is customary to wear shamrocks and/or green clothing or accessories (the “wearing of the green”). St Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish.
The green colour has been associated with Ireland since at least the 1640s, when the green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation. Green ribbons and shamrocks have been worn on St Patrick’s Day since at least the 1680s. The Friendly Brothers of St Patrick, an Irish fraternity founded in about 1750, adopted green as its colour. During the 1790s, green would become associated with Irish nationalism.
The wearing of the ‘St Patrick’s Day Cross’ was also a popular custom in Ireland until the early 20th century. These were a Celtic Christian cross made of paper that was “covered with silk or ribbon of different colours, and a bunch or rosette of green silk in the centre”.
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