St. Patrick’s Day – History

By Daniel Cha

March 17th is Saint Patrick’s Day, which is one of the most celebrated days in the United States, despite the fact that it is not an official holiday. Shamrocks, large festivals and parades, and wearing green have become a part of American culture. However, it is relatively little-known why St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated so widely, and even who St. Patrick is.According to the Church tradition and Confessio, a autobiographical book written by Patrick himself, Patrick was born in Britain under Roman control, and when he was sixteen he was captured by the Irish to become a slave. He was brought to Ireland, and tended sheep as a slave for six years, until he finally escaped and returned to Britain. Although he was not an ardent follower of Christianity when in Britain, he turned to Christianity during the six years of slavery in Ireland, and he was also acquainted with the language and culture of Ireland. After a while, he became a missionary and went back to Ireland, this time to spread Christianity. Legends tell that he performed several miracles there and converted thousands of Pagan Irish people to Christianity. One famous story is that he used shamrock to explain the idea of Trinity to the Irish — Three leaves in one plant, as there are three Persons (Father, Son and Spirit) in one God. After his death, he became the patron saint of Ireland, and the supposed date of his death, March 17th, was celebrated as a feast day in Ireland.

The significance of St. Patrick is well beyond Ireland, both in medieval and modern ages. Ireland became an avid Catholic country, and the Irish practiced Celtic or Insular Christianity that differed from the Roman Catholic in some aspects, although the Irish recognized and venerated the Pope in Rome. This was because of the fact that Ireland was never under the control of the Roman Empire and the Christianization of Ireland was independent of Rome. Their features include unique artistic styles and popularity of monasteries, which became centers for learning and arts in the early Medieval period. As many Irish missionaries were sent to other parts of Western Europe, their distinct features influenced the Western Europe as a whole profoundly: Many monasteries were established by Irish missionaries, and intricate decorations of Irish manuscripts contributed to the formation of medieval European art that was distinct from the Classical arts of the Roman Empire.

Many Irish people immigrated to the United States during the years of the Irish Potato Famine, which lasted from 1845 to 1849. The Irish, who had relied on potato as their staple food, were hit by the potato blight and many starved to death. Many others decided to leave Ireland and immigrate to the United States. As the number of Irish immigrants increased in the late 19th century, they formed a unique Irish-American identity, and St. Patrick’s Day was at the center of it. In one aspect, celebration of St. Patrick’s Day was an expression of the Catholic faith, which was an important part of Irish nationalism, but St. Patrick’s Day was more than a religious holiday. St. Patrick, shamrock, and green color became symbols of Irish-American identity, and sometimes celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day was larger in the United States than in Ireland.

Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated all across the United States, both by Irish and non-Irish Americans. One large celebration is held here annually in Dublin, California, which was originally founded by Irish settlers in 1850, and people from all across the East Bay gather at Dublin to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, all the celebrations — Parade, pancake breakfast, and fun run —- were cancelled due to Coronavirus. However, St. Patrick still remains as an important part of the history of Dublin, of Ireland, of the United States, and of the entire Western Europe.

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