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Why Everything is Green on March 17th: The History of St. Patrick’s Day

by Madison Jarnot

Every American has celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in some way. Whether it was eating the vanilla pudding dyed clover green in elementary school, wearing a green top hat for high school spirit day, or finally being able to get day-drunk from green beer during a city festival, the holiday is a universal experience.

Most people understand the general purpose of holidays without knowing the history, such as sharing love on Valentine’s Day without knowing anything about Saint Valentine. But, does anyone really know what St. Patrick’s Day is about?

In the fifth century, Saint Patrick was kidnapped from Britain (which, at the time, was part of the Roman empire) and brought to Ireland as a slave. He escaped slavery and became a priest, returning to Ireland later to spread his Christian beliefs. Saint Patrick was credited for bringing Christianity to Ireland and became the Patron Saint of Ireland.

In his writings, Saint Patrick describes being persecuted and beaten while doing missionary work in pagan Ireland. He refused to accept gifts from the Irish and their rulers, isolating himself from the majority of Irish society.

Otherwise, little is known about Saint Patrick’s life. Irish legend states Saint Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans, created the Celtic Cross, and banished snakes from all of Ireland (although snakes likely disappeared from Ireland in the Ice Age). However, none of this has been proven, and he describes little of his actual missionary work in his writings.

In 1631, the Catholic Church declared Mar. 17th, the day Saint Patrick is believed to have died, a feast day honoring him. During St. Patrick’s Day, the traditional Catholic Lenten restrictions are lifted, so those celebrating can eat meat and drink alcohol.

Later, Irish diaspora in the United States began celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with marches, feasts, and religious services. Over time, it became the extravagant, green, and drunken celebration it’s now known to be in the US.

Whether you’re Irish, Christian, both, or neither, St. Patrick’s Day can be a reminder to us that we can overcome all persecution with proper determination. On a shallower level, everyone can use a day off to celebrate their luck.

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