Whether you start noticing shamrocks popping up in decorations or get the chance to see the Chicago River dyed green, it’s hard to miss Saint Patrick’s Day, and in some communities, you’ll even get pinched if you don’t wear green to celebrate. As March 17 approaches, it’s time to think about the meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day, both its history and the modern celebration of Irish culture so that as you pull on a green shirt and raise a pint of Irish beer at a Saint Patrick’s Day party, you’ll have a better understanding of what you’re celebrating.
Born in Roman Britain in towards the end of the 4th century, a teenager named Patrick was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave. However, after toiling for six years and eventually escaping, he returned to Ireland as a Catholic bishop to spread Christianity, which was a new religion in that era. By the time he died, he had established monasteries, schools, and churches throughout the country, earning him canonization as a saint in the Catholic church. As is true with many saints, stories and legends about Saint Patrick spread over the years, and one of the most well-known ones is about how he used the three-leafed shamrock to illustrate the triune principle of the Holy Trinity.
It’s this humble man’s work and mission that’s behind today’s celebration, and because he helped spread Christianity throughout Ireland, he’s considered the country’s patron saint. Despite his modern fame, he lived a simple life, refusing gifts from wealthy benefactors and kings. Historians estimate that he died on March 17, and every year, Catholic masses are held in his honor as the Irish people remember his teachings and work, which for Irish Catholics, is still the most important Saint Patrick’s Day meaning. Up until the 1970s, bars and pubs in Ireland were actually closed on this day, making it a more religious and solemn holiday.
When thousands of Irish citizens began to immigrate to the United States, the holiday was secularized and became a celebration of Irish culture. In fact, the first parade for Saint Patrick’s Day was held in Boston in 1737. Because Irish immigrants were often ostracized in the US, their Saint Patrick’s Day meaning focused just as much on their unique identity and culture as it did on the religious aspects of the day. Today, Irish pride is the meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day that most people are familiar with.
In most major US cities where there’s a large Irish population, the streets fill with green, and you can easily find a Saint Patrick’s Day party to join at an Irish pub or in downtown. Since 1962, the city of Chicago has been dying their river green to celebrate, and New York City’s famous Saint Patrick’s parade dates back to 1762. With shamrocks and leprechaun decorations in an abundance, this celebration of Irish culture is a festive day across the world, and while there are no set rules for Saint Patrick’s Day how to celebrate, you can’t go wrong with a pint of Guinness beer and a traditional meal of corned beef and cabbage, a favorite among Irish immigrants.
Heading to a Saint Patrick’s Day party isn’t just a chance to let loose and have a cold beer; it’s a day to reflect on the US’s history of immigration and value all the different cultures that have come together. While Saint Patrick’s Day how to celebrate in big cities includes parades and colored rivers, you can likely find a traditional Irish pub near you anywhere in the world to celebrate at.