Who Was St. Patrick, and Why Is There a Holiday Celebrating Him?

Yes, he was a real person!

Each March we put on green clothing and grab a green beer (or two) in celebration of St. Patrick's Day. And while you probably know that the holiday has something to do with Ireland, shamrocks, or leprechauns, you may not know that St. Patrick was a real person—and that the holiday actually began as a deeply religious observance of his life.

So yes, St. Patrick was a real person, but why is there a holiday dedicated to him? We wanted to know the answer, so we did some digging and got the real story. So before you prepare your corned beef and cabbage dinner this St. Patrick's Day, brush up on the history behind the holiday's namesake.

st patrick
Archive Photos/Getty Images

Who Was St. Patrick?

Credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland in the 400s, St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and is also the country's national apostle. But as it turns out, he wasn't Irish, and his name wasn't actually Patrick.

Around the year 400, a boy named Maewyn Succat was born in Britain. When he was 16 years old, his family's home was raided by a group of Irish men and he was enslaved. He was taken to Ireland where he was held captive for several years, until he escaped and made his way back to England as a young adult.

After receiving religious training in England and becoming a priest, he changed his name to Patricius (also referred to as Patrick), because the name means 'father' in Latin.

As a priest, Patrick traveled back to Ireland to bring the word of Christianity to the Irish people. It's said that he used shamrocks to explain the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to the Irish people, which is why shamrocks are a popular St. Patrick's Day decoration now.

Why Does He Have a Holiday?

St. Patrick was so important to the Christian community in Ireland that when he died in the late 400s, the country declared that a feast day should be held each year on March 17, the day of his passing. A theologian named Luke Wadding is credited with making sure the tradition was observed each year.

For hundreds of years, Irish citizens would go to church on the morning of March 17, then hold a feast in the evening. Since this religious holiday usually falls during Lent, the restrictions would be lifted for the day so the Irish people could enjoy a feast of corned beef and have a beer with their meal in celebration of St. Patrick.

Now, St. Patrick's Day is a holiday celebrated around the world. So as you make your leprechaun traps, bake green desserts, and don your green shirts ($8, Target), remember St. Patrick himself is the reason for the holiday.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles