St. Patrick's Day is celebrated annually on March 17 (Credit: Hongreddotbrewhouse/CC-BY-SA-3..0/ Wikimedia Commons)

St. Patrick's Day was originally celebrated in Ireland with religious services and feasts. However, the holiday, marked annually on March 17, has now evolved into a secular commemoration of Irish culture. Here is a brief history of the man behind the holiday and some fun St. Patrick's Day customs.

Who was St. Patrick?

St. Patrick's Day is now one of Ireland's biggest holidays. But the clergyman, whose death anniversary it celebrates, was not Irish. Maewyn Succat, as he was then called, was born in modern-day England in 387 AD. He was kidnapped and brought to work at sheep farms in Ireland at age 16. Succat escaped a few years later and joined a monastery in England.

He changed his name to Patricius ("Father of the Citizens") and returned to Ireland in 423 AD as a missionary. The clergyman was not well-known at the time of his death on March 17, 461 AD. He rose to fame over the following centuries after tales of his feats, like banishing snakes from Ireland, spread. By the seventh century, St. Patrick had become Ireland's primary patron saint.


Leprechaun-hunting is very popular on St. Patrick's Day (Credit: Rawpixel/ CC-BY-SA-2.0)

Children love looking for leprechauns on St. Patrick's Day. The small, bearded men are believed to know the location of pots of gold hidden at the end of the rainbow. They also have the power to grant three wishes to their captors. Unfortunately, the crafty fairies have yet to be found.


St. Patrick used three-leaf clovers to explain the Holy Trinity (Credit: Rawpixel/ Public Domain)

Wearing three-leaf clovers, or shamrocks, is a popular St. Patrick's Day tradition. Legend has it that St. Patrick used the leaves to explain the Holy Trinity of Christianity to the Irish. Many people also seek out rare, four-leaf clovers. The leaves represent hope, faith, love, and happiness.

Green everywhere

Everything, from the Chicago River to monuments like France's Eiffel Tower, turns green on St. Patrick's Day. But when King George III established the Order of St. Patrick in 1783, the followers wore blue. Green was introduced in the 1790s. The color represents Irish nationalism and Ireland's lush green landscape.

The origin of pinching people not wearing green on St. Patrick's Day is hazy. Some think it is due to the green bruise left behind by a fierce pinch. Others believe that wearing green renders the person invisible to leprechauns. This makes it easier to catch the crafty men.


New York City hosts the biggest St. Patrick's Day parade (Credit: David Yu/ CC-BY-SA-2.0/ Flickr)

Many cities and towns worldwide host St. Patrick's Day parades. But the biggest one takes place in New York City. Every year, over two million spectators line up along Fifth Avenue to watch the six-hour-long extravaganza. It features bands, bagpipes, dancers, and between 150,000 to 250,000 participants. The Dublin, Ireland, parade, which began in 1998, is not as large. But the city's week-long celebration attracts over a million party-goers annually.


Corned beef and cabbage are popular in the US on St. Patrick's Day (Credit: Jeffreyw/ CC-BY-SA 2.0/ Flickr)

Americans like eating corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day. The custom is credited to early Irish immigrants who could only afford beef, the cheapest meat available at the time. But don't expect the Irish in Ireland to adopt the simple fare. They prefer to indulge in bacon and lamb on their most important holiday.

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Happy St. Patrick's Day!