Learn the powerful history behind this long-standing tradition. 

By Emily VanSchmus
February 19, 2021
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Shamrocks have been associated with St. Patrick's Day since the very first time the holiday was celebrated. My mom and I make shamrock-shaped cookies every year (and usually do so while wearing shamrock-patterned clothing), and it wouldn't be St. Patrick's Day season without a minty green Shamrock Shake. But why do we associate them with a celebration of Irish culture?

It turns out that there's a profound connection between the history of the holiday itself and the shamrock-shaped sunglasses I typically wear to a St. Patrick's Day parade—and the story behind it is fascinating.

Credit: mikroman6/Getty Images

As I recently learned, St. Patrick was a real person—but he wasn't actually from Ireland. He was born in Britain around the year 400 and captured by Irish soldiers as a teen. He was held in Ireland as a servant until he was able to escape several years later. But when he went back to Britain and studied to become a priest, he felt a calling to go back to the place he'd been held hostage and teach the Irish people about Christianity. 

So Patrick became a missionary and spent much of his adult life traveling through Ireland teaching the citizens about his faith—but what does that have to do with the shamrock sunglasses, hats, and pins we wear today? 

After adopting the religion, the early Irish Christians were so grateful to St. Patrick that they declared a holiday in his honor, and for many years spent St. Patrick's Day going to church and reflecting on the teachings he'd brought to the country. And while in modern times, the day has turned into more of a celebration with parades and good food and drink, the symbol of the shamrock has survived through the centuries. So the next time you put on your shamrock-patterned apparel for the holiday, know that you have St. Patrick himself to thank for the tradition. 

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