Why Do We Celebrate St Patrick's Day?

Every year on 17th March, we celebrate St Patricks Day, donning our greenest garb, marching in Irish parades, eating green clover-shaped foods and quaffing beer, all in the name of a saint. But do you really know who St. Patrick was and why he is celebrated? This occasion was named after the patron saint of Ireland who was believed to have died on that day sometime in AD 400 and is now buried in Downpatrick in Nothern Ireland. The event is clouded by ambiguity, yet we still commemorate it. Not only is it celebrated in Great Britain, it’s also honoured in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. But do you know the story about Saint Patrick? Did you know he wasn’t even born in Ireland?

Who Was Saint Patrick?

St Patrick was born in Roman Britain in AD 387. At the young age of 16, the patron was captured by a group of enraged Irish raiders who attacked his father’s estate, and deported him to Ireland where he remained a captive for six years, working as a slave and a shepherd in complete isolation from other people. At this time, Ireland was a land of paganism and druidism, however, Patrick became a devout Christian.

The saint's writings suggest he heard a voice telling him to escape, so he travelled south for 200 miles until he reached the Irish coast where he hopped aboard the ship to Britain. On his return to England, he became a priest, studying under St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre in France, to help battle paganism. He was ordained and given the name “Patercius” or “Patritius”, which in Latin means “father of his people”.

Then he returned to Ireland and taught Christianity to the Irish. Initially, Patrick encountered numerous hardships among the pagans, especially the druids. Many of his family members converted to Christianity and bit by bit, the old religion faded and Patrick established the Catholic Church. He baptised, confirmed, and ordained priests, and he erected schools and monasteries. In less than 30 year, he accomplished all these activities, converting the whole island nation of Ireland. Just before he died, he wrote Confessions, wherein he gives a record of his life and mission.

Shamrocks: What have they got to do with St Patrick’s Day?

Saint Patrick wanted to make people understand the doctrine of the Trinity. So, he demonstrated the analogy using a shamrock – the stem symbolised God while the three leaves represented the three beings that make up the divine God:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The shamrock was already a sacred plant in ancient Ireland as it denoted the rebirth of spring. And it’s for that very reason we wear green on St Patrick’s Day because, of course, shamrocks are green!

How We Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

The first St Patrick’s Day parade took place on March 17th, 1762, by the English military in New York. Then in 1848, a group of New York Irish aid societies combined their parades to form one New York City St Patrick’s Day Parade, which consisted of more than 150,000 participants. Irish music and dancing was the name of the game. Other cities also hold annual parades, including San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Montreal, Vancouver, and Sydney.