St. Patrick’s Day is far from the strict cultural and religious celebration it had been in Ireland for a millennium. Also, it’s no longer a holiday just for people of Irish descent. Rather, on March 17th, you can head over to your local outdoor beer garden (most 2021 annual parades have been canceled, thanks to Covid) and you’ll see people of all backgrounds celebrating St. Patrick’s Day together. All over the world, this is a day to blow off some steam, perhaps while dressed like a mythical leprechaun, eat corned beef and cabbage and drink green beer.
Here, we explore who Saint Patrick is, why he has his own parade, and, if you’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day from home this year, how you can make a batch of green beer.
Who is Saint Patrick?
We know Saint Patrick as a fifth-century patron saint of Ireland. But according to National Geographic, he wasn’t Irish. Patrick was born in Britain to a wealthy family. At age 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland to work as a slave. After about six years, Patrick made his way back to his family and while in Britain, entered the clergy. When he returned to Ireland as an adult, according to historians, he made it his mission to proselytize and convert the Celts to Christianity.
Patrick was sainted after he died on March 17, 461 AD, but he was never actually canonized. It might be headline news if something like that happened today. But for Patrick, it wasn’t a case of subterfuge or malfeasance. According to religion reporter, Ken Concannon, “There was no formal canonization process in the Church during its first millennium. [T]he title saint was bestowed…upon individuals recognized by tradition as being exceptionally holy during their lifetimes.” It was actually Patrick’s popularity that helped him achieve patron saint status. And it likely would not have happened without a bishop expressing his approval.
Why is Patrick a Saint?
Mainly due to his work as a missionary. Religion historians say that Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland. Some casual online reading also reveals that he was responsible for driving snakes out of the country. And while he was proselytizing, he was known for using a three-leaf clover as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity: the father, son, and holy spirit. That’s how the shamrock has become a symbol for St. Paddy’s Day.
But only one of these myths are verifiably factual. Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to much of Ireland. As far as the snakes are concerned, Ireland never had snakes. According to Popular Science, since the Ice Age the British Isles were inhospitable to reptiles. Ireland is just too darn chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. And as far as the three-leaf clover is concerned, it’s a fun story but there’s very little evidence to back to it.
Why do we Celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day With a Parade?
Lent is a solemn, 40-day religious observance that starts in early February and ends the day before Easter. It’s a period when Christians reflect on Jesus’ time in the wilderness by praying, fasting and forgoing meat on Fridays. Since it falls in the middle of this very somber season, you can see how St. Patrick’s Day evolved into a secular holiday during which millions of people all over the planet drink beer at raucous street parties.
How to Make Green Beer
If you’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at home this year, serve your guests a batch of green beer. Just add a few drops of green food dye, like McCormick food coloring, into a pint of a light-hued beer.
Fun Facts About Saint Patrick
There’s a lot of misinformation about Saint Patrick. For one thing, he’s not a leprechaun. He’s also not Irish and, some people say, not even a legit saint. Here’s what else we learned about Patrick.
He’s not Irish
St. Patrick’s Day is like a cultural pride parade for Irish people. But Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, wasn’t actually Irish. Rather, he was born in Britain and at age 16 was kidnapped and shipped off to Ireland. There, he worked as a slave for about six years. After returning to his family in Britain, Patrick entered the clergy. A few years later he returned to Ireland, this time as a missionary. Patrick believed it was his calling to proselytize and convert people to Christianity.
He’s not an official saint (or is he?)
Saint Patrick was never officially sainted. Starting in the 12th century, saints were canonized by the Pope. But back when Patrick earned the virtuous title, Bishops were responsible for determining who was saint material. But in cases like Patrick’s, individuals were could also be chosen by the people.
Chicago turned their river green
Every year, to celebrate the St. Patrick’s Day parade in the Windy City, municipal employees dye the Chicago River green. The tradition started back in the 1960s after workers noticed that a chemical used to trace sewage changes the color of the water. First, they dumped about 100 pounds of an oil-based mixture into the waterway. The green hue stuck around for a week. But later on, the workers came up with an environmentally-friendly vegetable dye that turns the water green for a few hours.
How People Celebrate St. Paddy’s Day Around the World
It’s probably not surprising to learn that Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in Ireland. But what other parts of the world? It turns out that many big cities, from Tokyo to Dubai, also have very popular St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and parades.
The people of Montserrat, a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, love celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. According to the island’s official visitor’s website, the St. Patrick’s Festival is a two-week long national holiday commemorating the island’s Irish and African heritage.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in Japan was in 1992. Irish expats organized the festivities as a way to celebrate their culture while living abroad. It turns out that Japanese people really enjoyed it and now there are more than a dozen annual St. Patrick’s Day parades all over the country.
Moscow has been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day for a quarter of a century and parades have popped up in cities like St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, and Kazan. Russian people celebrate the holiday with Irish music, Irish dance, and pints of Guinness, of course.
Wait…St. Patty’s Day or St. Paddy’s Day?
In the US, Patty may be short for Patrick, but in Ireland, Patty is a girl’s name and it’s short for Patricia. To abbreviate the name Patrick, and St. Patrick’s Day, the correct spelling is Paddy. According to PaddyNotPatty.com, “There isn’t a sinner in Ireland that would refer to a Patrick as ‘Patty.’ It’s as simple as that.”