Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated annually on March 17 (Credit: Public Domain)

Saint Patrick's Day, observed annually on March 17, is a global celebration of Irish culture. Here is a brief history of the man behind the popular holiday and some fun traditions associated with the commemoration.

Saint Patrick

St. Patrick's Day is Ireland's biggest holiday. However, the clergyman 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 on sheep farms in Ireland at age 16. The teenager escaped a few years later and spent 15 years at a monastery in England.

St. Patric was born in Britain (Credit: Nheyob/ CC BY-SA 4.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

In 432 AD, the now-renamed Patricius ("Father of the Citizens") returned to Ireland. He wanted to convert the country's primarily pagan population to Christianity. Historians believe Patrick died there on March 17, 461 AD.

St. Patrick was not very well-known at the time of his death. However, over the next few centuries, he was credited with numerous heroic deeds, including driving out all snakes from Ireland. The tales transformed the once-obscure clergyman into a legendary figure. By the seventh century, St. Patrick's became known as the patron saint of Ireland. The March 17 celebration started in 1631 when the Church established a Feast Day in honor of St. Patrick.


St. Patrick's parade in Dublin in 2018 (Credit: Michael Rivera/ CC-BY-SA 4.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

The St. Patrick's Day parade tradition is believed to have begun in New York City on March 17, 1762. The inaugural procession comprised a group of homesick Irish immigrants. It has since grown into one of the world's largest St. Patrick's Day gatherings, attracting over two million spectators annually. The parade in Dublin, Ireland, is not as large. However, the city makes up for it by hosting a week-long celebration, which attracts over a million people every year.

Leprechauns and Shamrocks

For kids, one of the most exciting St. Patrick's traditions is setting up leprechaun traps. According to Irish folklore, the fairies — depicted as little bearded men wearing coats and hats — know the location of pots of gold. They can also grant any three wishes. The only catch? The sneaky creatures have yet to be seen, let alone caught, by anyone.

Many people wear shamrocks on St. Patrick's Day (Credit: Falon Yates/ CC-BY-SA.2.0/ Flickr)

Wearing three-leaf clovers, or shamrocks, is a popular St. Patrick's Day tradition. It is believed that St. Patrick used the leaves to explain the Holy Trinity of Christianity to the Irish. Many people also look for four-leaf clovers on this day. The leaves represent hope, faith, love, and happiness.

Why green?

When the Order of St. Patrick was established in the 1780s, the preferred color was blue. Green was introduced to the festivities in the 1790s. The color represents Irish nationalism and Ireland's lush green landscape. Today, everything from the Chicago River to monuments like France's Eiffel Tower turns green on St. Patrick's Day.

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 makes the person invisible to leprechauns. This makes it easier to catch the crafty fairies.

Corned beef and cabbage

Corned beef and cabbage is the meal of choice on St. Patrick's Day (Credit: JLS Photography/ CC-By-SA-2.0/ Flickr)

Eating corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day is an American custom. It was started by early Irish settlers who could only afford meat once a week. Since beef was cheap, it became the meat of choice. Over the years, this "special meal" became associated with St. Patrick's Day. In Ireland, the preferred meat of choice is bacon or lamb.

Do you have a fun St. Patrick's Day tradition? If so, share it with us in the comments below.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!