What Is St. Patrick's Day? Here's Why We Celebrate the Holiday

You can thank St. Patrick himself for that green beer you're drinking.

We typically associate St. Patrick's Day with drinking green beer and wearing green clothing so we don't get pinched. But do you know the history behind the holiday? As we prepare for another at-home St. Paddy's Day celebration, we wanted to learn more about the roots of this holiday—and it turns out, the real story is a lot more interesting than leprechauns and four-leaf clovers.

The legend of St. Patrick dates back more than 1,000 years, and the holiday has a deep religious meaning you may not know. So as you cook up your corned beef and cabbage and don your shamrock attire, take a few minutes to learn about the religious and historical significance of St. Patrick's Day.

People celebrating St Patrick's Day
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When Is St. Patrick's Day?

St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17, no matter the day of the week. This day was chosen for the holiday because it is the anniversary of St. Patrick's death. This year, St. Patrick's Day is Thursday, March 17, 2022.

The History of St. Patrick's Day

The story of St. Patrick's Day begins with the legend of the man himself—an actual person who lived more than 1,000 years ago. In the fifth century, a British man named Patrick had a vision of himself visiting Ireland and bringing Christianity to the people there.

The story goes that he traveled throughout Ireland, using a shamrock (or a three-leaf clover) to explain the Holy Trinity: Each of the clover's leaves represented the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (This is why shamrocks are the national flower of Ireland, and why they're used in St. Patrick's Day celebrations to this day.)

When St. Patrick died on March 17, 461, his death date became a national religious holiday in Ireland. Families would go to church in the morning and then celebrate for the rest of the day. The holiday typically falls during Lent, but the restrictions would be lifted for the day, so the Irish people celebrated by eating corned beef and drinking beer—a tradition that's now used to celebrate St. Patrick's Day all over the world.

More than 1,000 years later, the tradition of St. Patrick's Day parades began, although interestingly, they began in America and not in Ireland. Irish soldiers serving in the army held a march on St. Patrick's Day in New York City in 1772, and since then most major cities in America have adopted the tradition of hosting a St. Patrick's Day parade. The largest celebrations outside Ireland are the parades held in New York City and Boston.

Today, St. Patrick's Day is celebrated mostly in Ireland, the United States, Canada, and Australia, although Japan, Singapore, and Russia also hold small celebrations.

And while this year's parades likely won't be happening due to the pandemic, there are plenty of ways you can celebrate at home.

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