Illustration for article titled The True Story of St. Patrick's DayImage: Sam Woolley (Shutterstock, Getty)

When you think of St. Patrick’s Day you might think of green beer, shot glass necklaces that read “Kiss me I’m Irish” and everyone is suddenly talking about how Irish they are. That’s all well and good, but you may not know much about the origins of the holiday or the saint it celebrates. Well, take off that stupid hat, let’s educate.

Who Was Saint Patrick?

St. Patrick, thinks about it the patron saint of Ireland, was actually born in Banna Venta Berniae, a city in Roman Great Britain, sometime in the late 300s AD. That’s right, Patrick wasn’t Irish – and neither was his name Patrick. It was Maewyn Succat, but he didn’t care, so he decided to later become known as Patricius. He actually had many monikers in his life: he was referred to by many as Magonus, by others as Succetus, and by some as Cothirthiacus. But we just call him Patrick since everyone else does.

His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon in the early Christian church, but Patrick himself was not a great believer. It was not until he was captured by Irish pirates at the age of 16 and enslaved as a shepherd for six years that he decided to convert to Christianity. While in North East IrelandPatrick learned the Irish language and culture before attempting to return to the UK. But Patrick apparently wasn’t very good at escaping because he was captured again. This time from the French.

He was detained in France, where he learned all about it Monasticism before he was released and sent to Britain, where he studied Christianity well into his twenties. Eventually Patrick claimed he had a vision that told him to bring Christianity to the Irish people, who at the time were predominantly pagan and druid. So he made his way back to Ireland and brought a big old bag of Christianity with him.

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Illustration for article titled The True Story of St. Patrick's Day

However, when Patrick returned to Ireland, he and his preaching paths were not welcomed, so he had to leave and land a few small islands off the coast. There he began to gain followers and eventually moved to the mainland to spread Christian ideologies throughout Ireland for many years. During this time, Patrick baptized thousands (some say 100,000) of people, ordained new priests, led women to nunnery, converted the sons of kings in the area, and helped form over 300 churches.

Separate fact from fiction

Folklore also tells of Patrick who banned all snakes from Ireland, but as bad as that sounds, there were actually never any snakes on the island. But Patrick might be the one in charge of popularizing the Shamrockor that three-leaved plant you’ll see plastered everywhere on days like St. Patrick’s Day.

According to legend, Patrick used it to teach the Irish the concept of the Christian Holy Trinity. They already had triple deities and valued the number three highly, so Patrick’s use of the shamrock may have helped him gain great favor with the Irish.

Why the vacation and when did it start?

These days, Patricius is known to most as Saint Patrick. Even though He is technically not a canonized saint of the Catholic ChurchHe is very popular all over the Christian world. But why the vacation? Why always on March 17th? What about the green? And why do we think of a non-Irish charmer without a snake as a symbol of Ireland?

St. Paddy’s Day started as a religious festival in the 17th century commemorating the life of Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. This “feast day” always occurred on the anniversary of Patrick’s death, which was believed to be March 17, 461 AD. In the early 18th century, Irish immigrants brought the tradition to the American colonies, and it is there that Saint Patrick became the symbol of Irish heritage and culture that he is today. As more Irish came across the Atlantic, the celebration of the holiday slowly grew in popularity. So much so, in fact, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston in 1737.

Illustration for article titled The True Story of St. Patrick's Day

The mid-19th century saw a massive influx of Irish immigrants into the United States hoping to escape the country Great famine. This turned the relatively small holiday celebration into a full blown celebration that people wanted to attend, whether they were Irish or not. In 1903 the feast day became a national holiday in Ireland and over time transformed into what is called today St. Patrick’s Day.

The holiday has since been celebrated around the world in countries like the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Russia, and even across Asia. St. Paddy’s Day is so popular that it is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival. What was once a pretty cool day, going to mass, watching a parade and having a hearty meal with the family has grown into the biggest party in the world.

Why is everyone wearing green?

If you’re wondering why people wear green, there’s more to it than just protecting against finger pinches. It goes back to that Irish rebellionwhen Irish soldiers wore green when they fought the British in their trademark red. Until then, the color associated with St. Patrick and Feast Day was actually blue. The Song soldiers sang during the 1798 war, “Wearing the green, “Changed all of that and made green, the color of shamrocks, Ireland’s main color.

From then on, people wore green on St. Patrick’s Day out of solidarity. And when Chicago first colored their river green in 1962The practice of wearing and decorating in green became a part of pop culture. It is now customary to get the best greens out in mid-March.

Illustration for article titled The True Story of St. Patrick's Day

Why all that drinking?

Okay then why all that drinking? It’s partly historical subtext, partly we succumb to advertising and partly stereotyping. Originally St. Patrick’s Day or feast day, saw the lifting of Lent restrictions on the dayand gave the Christians a breather as they set off for Easter. Basically, it was a day to eat and drink as much as you’d like to celebrate. hence the traditional Irish food made from bacon and cabbage. But drinking whiskey and beer wasn’t part of the equation. In fact, pubs in Ireland were legally forced to close for public holidays until the end of the 20th century, and drinking alcohol on St. Patrick’s Day was heavily frowned upon until the late 1970s.

Then a big marketing push from Budweiser in the 1980s convinced thirsty night owls that drinking beer and St. Patrick’s Day were one and the same. The rest is drunken history that few seem to remember as everything in our minds has been replaced with quotes from Boondock Saints. Similar to Cinco de MayoMany people now use the vacation as an excuse to have a drink promotes negative stereotypes by mistakenly associating the act of waste with Irish culture. But at least now you can proudly have a sip of your Guinness because you know the real story. health!

Update: This article originally linked the birthplace of Bannaventa in St. Patrick to Banna Venta Berniae in the Northamptonshire region of England. It is believed that this is inaccurateand the exact whereabouts of his birthplace are uncertain. This story was originally published and updated in March 2017 to be in line with Lifehacker style guidelines.