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What Is St. Patrick's Day Really About?

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We all know what St. Patrick’s Day means: shamrocks, leprechauns, parades, beer, and a whole lot of green. But few know the real origins of St. Patrick’s Day. While the holiday is surely a time for celebration, take a moment to consider the reason we celebrate this day.

The Surprising Life of St. Patrick

With all the festivities of St. Patrick’s Day, you may not have time to remember who St. Patrick actually was. We’re not entirely sure of the exact dates Patrick lived, but we do know that he lived during the fifth century. Surprisingly, sources show that he was actually born somewhere in Britain. Apparently, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates at age 16 and taken to the island, where he eventually became a bishop and missionary. March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day – observes what’s thought to be the anniversary of his death.

Why Shamrocks?

How did the remembrance of a British-born bishop in Ireland become associated with the three-leaf clover? Actually, the link between the shamrock and St. Patrick dates back to the missionary’s life and activities. It’s thought that St. Patrick used the leaf to illustrate his sermons. As the shamrock has three leaves, St. Patrick is believed to have used it to explain the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity. After his death, and through history, St. Patrick became the patron saint of Ireland, and the shamrock became not only associated with him, but with Ireland the country as well.

Leprechauns Explained

Leprechauns, those sneaky, mischievous creatures that we make reference to once a year, aren’t actually explicitly tied to St. Patrick’s Day. Leprechauns have a basis in old Irish folklore, appearing in these old stories as troublemakers who mend shoes and play jokes. And in fact, the earliest leprechauns didn’t wear green; they usually wore red. Over the years, and especially thanks to mass media, the image of leprechauns has changed to something a little more friendly and cartoonish, though the basic tenants of the leprechaun have stayed the same.

The Reason We Drink on St. Patrick’s Day

For many adults, St. Patrick’s Day isn’t so much a day of celebration, but rather a reason to get together with friends and have a fun, alcohol-imbued time. Surely, some of these revellers have wondered the morning after why they decided to drink on St. Patrick’s Day. Originally, St. Patrick’s Day was a feast day to celebrate Patrick, which allowed Christian observers to put a pause on the food and drinks they were disallowed from because of Lent. Naturally, this could lead to a little over-consumption, which may be why we tend to go a little overboard on St. Patrick’s Day.
It’s interesting to see how the reasons we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day have changed over the years, and if you were unfamiliar with the holiday’s origins, the roots can be quite intriguing. While we should all have fun and celebrate, it’s important to recognize the cultural history of these events. So, take the opportunity this St. Patrick’s Day to raise a glass to the man himself who inspired the holiday – Patrick!

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