St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17 in many places around the world by Irish and non-Irish alike. While St. Patrick's Day commemorates the saint that helped to spread Christianity in Ireland centuries ago, today the holiday is normally spent enjoying Irish food, drinking Irish beer and participating in all things Irish. The history of St. Patrick's Day and the unique traditions of the holiday have helped to cement its place in cultures around the world.
It is believed that the Roman Catholic St. Patrick died in 460 A.D. on March 17, and the date was set aside as his feast day on the Church's calendar. St. Patrick was born in Britain, but in his teens he was captured by Irish raiders and imprisoned in Ireland. While there, he worked as a shepherd and turned to his faith for comfort, becoming in time a devout Christian. St. Patrick escaped and returned to Britain, but while there he was said to have been told by an angel in a dream that he should return to Ireland to help Christians in Ireland and convert the non-believers. After being trained as a priest, St. Patrick returned to Ireland and used some of the pagan beliefs of the Irish to teach them about Christianity. In time, Ireland became one of the most Christian countries in the world, and St. Patrick was named the patron saint of the island nation.
While St. Patrick's Day was initially celebrated by the Irish as their patron saint's feast day, the holiday eventually began to hold meaning for Irish immigrants in other countries and their descendants. Today St. Patrick's Day is a day where people around the world can celebrate their Irish ancestry and the rich history of their fiercely independent, courageous homeland.
St. Patrick's Day is most commonly celebrated in areas with large populations of Irish or those with Irish ancestry. While Ireland remains the country with the most history with St. Patrick's Day, some of the biggest St. Patrick's Day festivities occur in the United States. The United States, Canada and Australia all have significant populations of Irish descendants, and St. Patrick's Day is widely celebrated by Irish and non-Irish in these countries.
Traditionally, people in Ireland would celebrate St. Patrick's Day by attending Mass in the morning, followed by dancing and feasts of Irish bacon and cabbage. In modern Ireland, St. Patrick's Day is still a religious celebration, but it is also used as a tool to help promote tourism in the country. Each year, the government helps sponsor the St. Patrick's Day Festival in Dublin that draws nearly a million people and includes parades, concerts, plays and fireworks over several days.
St. Patrick's Day was initially celebrated in the United States with a parade in New York City in 1762. Irish soldiers from the English army marched through the city playing Irish music and promoting Irish patriotism. As more and more Irish immigrants arrived in the United States, especially after the Potato Famine in 1845, St. Patrick's Day become more widely celebrated in cities throughout the country with parades, music, dancing, feasting and drinking.
Today, parades are still a common way of celebrating St. Patrick's Day, along with wearing green, eating traditional Irish food, drinking Irish beer and listening to Irish music.
St. Patrick's Day occurs during Lent each year, in the calendar of the Catholic Church. Lent is a time of fasting and abstinence, but on St. Patrick's Day it is acceptable to break the traditional Lenten fasting on March 17. Many participants in St. Patrick's Day festivities indulge in traditional Irish dishes with meats like bacon and lamb and imbibe large amounts of Irish beer and whiskey.