What is St. Patrick’s Day?

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St. Patrick’s Day is a cultural and religious holiday celebrated on March 17th, marking the death date of St. Patrick, the foremost patron saint of Ireland. Originating in Ireland, this day has come to be recognized globally, in part due to the Irish diaspora. It commemorates St. Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, as well as the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. Celebrations typically involve public parades, festivals, and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks.

The holiday has evolved to become a celebration of Irish culture with parades, special foods, music, dancing, and a whole lot of green. The shamrock, which was used by St. Patrick as a metaphor for the Christian Holy Trinity, is closely associated with the holiday and is a national symbol of Ireland. Traditionally, the day was observed as a religious holiday, with many attending church services in the morning and celebrating in the afternoon. However, since the latter part of the 20th century, St. Patrick’s Day has become more of a secular celebration of Ireland’s culture.

Around the world, Irish and non-Irish alike partake in St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Cities with large Irish populations, like New York, Boston, and Chicago, are known for their grand parades and vibrant celebrations. In Chicago, the city dyes its river green to mark the occasion. Although the day started as a Christian feast day, it has become a day for celebrating all things Irish: its history, people, and the influence of Irish culture around the world.

The Origin of St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day originates from the commemorations of St. Patrick, the most commonly recognized patron saint of Ireland, and has evolved into a broader celebration of Irish culture.

The Historical St. Patrick

St. Patrick was a fifth-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. Born in Britain, he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of sixteen. He later escaped, but returned to Ireland and was credited with bringing Christianity to its people. Over the centuries, St. Patrick has become a legendary figure, entwined with the folklore of the shamrock and his reputed banishing of snakes from Ireland.

The Transformation into a Christian Feast Day

The day of St. Patrick’s death, March 17, was marked as a religious holiday by the early 17th century, after his recognition as the patron saint of Ireland. The day was officially recognized as a feast day in the early 1600s and became a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics in Ireland. Over time, the day transformed from a strictly religious occasion into a more secular celebration of Irish heritage and culture.

St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations

St. Patrick’s Day is marked by vibrant celebrations, honoring the cultural and religious heritage of the Irish. Across the globe, these observances range from flamboyant parades to the donning of green attire.

Parades and Public Festivities

Cities worldwide host grand parades featuring bagpipers, dancers, and floats. New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the oldest and largest, drawing more than two million spectators. In Dublin, the festival spans several days, including concerts, outdoor theater, and fireworks.

Wearing of the Green

The color green dominates the attire on St. Patrick’s Day, symbolizing Ireland’s nickname, “The Emerald Isle.” Participants often wear green clothing, accessories, and even paint their faces. Shamrocks are especially popular, acting as a national symbol of Ireland and associated with the teachings of St. Patrick.

Cultural and Religious Observances

St. Patrick’s Day holds religious significance for many, attending church services to honor the patron saint of Ireland. The day is also an occasion for showcasing Irish culture, through traditional music, dance like the Irish jig, and feasting on authentic Irish food such as corned beef and cabbage.

Global Observance

St. Patrick’s Day has expanded far beyond Ireland, becoming a global phenomenon celebrated with parades, music, and cultural events. While rooted in Irish tradition, the holiday enjoys international popularity, incorporating various local customs.

St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is both a public holiday and a day of cultural significance. The day is observed with:

  • Parades: The largest parade takes place in Dublin, drawing crowds in the hundreds of thousands.
  • Local festivals: Across the country, there are numerous local festivals featuring music, dancing, and art.

Cities such as Dublin host a multi-day festival culminating in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Traditional Irish music and dance, as well as language workshops, are significant components of these celebrations.

Celebrations Around the World

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in numerous countries around the globe, each adopting the holiday with their own customs and festivities.

  • United States: Major cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago hold extensive parades and dye rivers green to commemorate the day.
  • Australia: Sydney notably lights up the Sydney Opera House in green and conducts various events across the country.
  • Canada: Toronto and Montreal are famous for their large-scale parades and vibrant celebrations.

St. Patrick’s Day festivals across the world also see prominent landmarks illuminated in green, reflecting the global reach of the holiday.

Symbols of St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is rich with symbols steeped in Irish culture and mythology. These symbols have become synonymous with the celebration of Irish heritage around the world on March 17.


The shamrock is a central symbol of St. Patrick’s Day, representing the natural beauty of Ireland and the teachings of St. Patrick. Legend has it that St. Patrick used the three-leaved plant to explain the Holy Trinity to the Irish.


Leprechauns are mythical figures in Irish folklore. These mischievous fairy creatures are often depicted as diminutive, elderly men dressed in green coats. They are known as cobblers and hoarders of treasure, which they hide at the end of rainbows.

The Color Green

The color green dominates St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, embodying the lush landscapes of Ireland and national pride. People often wear green clothing and accessories, and iconic landmarks are illuminated in green lights to commemorate the holiday.


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