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Explained: How St. Patrick’s Day became a global celebration

Originally a religious holiday, it has now become a secular celebration internationally, with parades, dancing, drinking and special foods, as well as wearing the color green.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 18, 2021 7:47:00 am
Women dress up for St Patrick's Day in Dublin City centre, Ireland, Wednesday, March, 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

In several countries, St Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17 as a commemoration of Irish culture and history. It is a national holiday in the Republic of Ireland as well as Northern Ireland in the UK.

Originally a religious holiday, it has now become a secular celebration internationally, with parades, dancing, drinking and special foods, as well as wearing the color green.

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Who was St Patrick?

In Ireland, Sr Patrick is regarded as the country’s patron saint, and is remembered for bringing Christianity to the country.

Born in Britain in the late 4th century, he was kidnapped at the age of 16 and taken to neighbouring Ireland as a slave. Patrick was able to escape, and trained as a priest before choosing to return to Ireland as a Christian missionary.

St. Patrick’s Day merchandise hangs for sale, Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in South Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

In 431 AD, Patrick was appointed as successor to St Palladius, the first bishop of Ireland. By the time of his death on March 17, 461 (now marked as his feast day), he had established many monasteries, schools and churches in the country, and by the 7th century, had become a legendary figure in Ireland.

St Patrick is typically associated with the shamrock, a type of clover with three leaves that is native to Ireland, and which is now known as the country’s symbol. He is often pictured holding a shamrock, and is said to have used it to explain the Christian concept of Trinity.

A man dressed as St Patrick walks down O’Connell street in Dublin, Ireland, Wednesday, March, 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

As per a popular legend, St Patrick is believed to have driven the snakes out of Ireland. Most experts do not believe this story, however, given that Ireland has never been known to have had native serpent species in the first place.

How did St Patrick’s Day become a global phenomenon?

Festivities around St Patrick’s Day were first marked in Ireland, where people would celebrate with religious services and feasts.

Beginning with the 17th century, however, St Patrick’s Day started becoming a secular celebration of Irish culture after immigrants from Ireland began settling in North America.

People kayak along the Chicago River, which was dyed green ahead of St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago. (Pat Nabong /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

In the United States, as the political power of Irish Americans grew with their numbers, cities began staging large celebrations, including elaborate parades. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Boston held its first St Patrick’s Day parade in 1737, and New York in 1762. The New York parade is now considered the world’s biggest, with more than 1,50,000 taking part each year. Every year since 1962, Chicago has dyed its river green– the color that is now most commonly associated with St Patrick (The dye is environmentally friendly).

St Patrick’s Day has now become an international festival of revelry that honors Irish culture, with both Irish and non-Irish people taking part in the “wearing of the green”, in which one has to sport an item of green clothing or a shamrock in the lapel. A popular symbol that is part of the celebration is the Leprechaun, a fairy that is depicted as a little red-haired, green-clothed man, wearing a coat and hat who partakes in mischief.

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