St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated annually on March 17, the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. On St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast–on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.
The First St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Saint Patrick, who lived during the fifth century, is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland. Born in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16. He later escaped, but returned to Ireland and was credited with bringing Christianity to its people. In the centuries following Patrick’s death (believed to have been on March 17, 461), the mythology surrounding his life became ever more ingrained in the Irish culture: Perhaps the most well known legend is that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock.
How We Celebrate!
Over the next 35 years, Irish patriotism among American immigrants flourished, prompting the rise of so-called “Irish Aid” societies like the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and the Hibernian Society. Each group would hold annual parades featuring bagpipes (which actually first became popular in the Scottish and British armies) and drums.
In 1848, several New York Irish Aid societies decided to unite their parades to form one official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Today, that parade is the world ‘s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States, with over 150,000 participants. Each year, nearly 3 million people line the 1.5-mile parade route to watch the procession, which takes more than five hours. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Savannah and many other cities including Baton Rouge, LA also celebrate the day with parades involving between 10,000 and 20,000 participants each.
Workers in March, 2006 dye the Chicago River green as part of the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Although blue was the color originally associated with St. Patrick, green is now the predominant color of the celebration.
U.S. President Barack Obama is presented with a bowl of shamrocks by an Ireland politician Brian Cowen on St. Patrick’s Day, 2009. Shamrocks traditionally symbolize the rebirth of spring.
A parade float rides through the streets of South Boston, Massachusetts on St. Patrick’s Day, 1973. The city has been celebrating the holiday with music and revelry since 1737.
~ Staff, History.com, 2009