A Green Machine The True History Of St. Patrick’s Day

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Saint Patrick is arguably one of the most famous saints of all time, and St. Patrick’s Day, on March 17, has become the most widely observed saint’s feast day worldwide. Most now consider it a secular holiday, and Saint Patrick has become synonymous with wearing green and celebrating all things Irish.

So, it may be surprising to learn that Saint Patrick isn’t technically a saint, wasn’t from Ireland, and his original name wasn’t even Patrick!

Maewyn Succat was born in Britain in the late 4th to early 5th century. He came from a wealthy family and was kidnapped at 16 years of age by Irish raiders who took him to Ireland. Maewyn was enslaved for several years and primarily lived and worked in solitude. During that time, he found solace in his childhood religion and became a devout Christian.

After hearing God’s voice in a dream, Maewyn escaped from his enslavers and returned to Britain. He became a priest and took on the name Patrick along the way. He then felt called upon by God a second time to return to Ireland, this time as a missionary.

Only a small number of Christians were in Ireland at that time, and Patrick played a pivotal role in spreading the religion throughout the country. Unlike previous missionaries who had encouraged the Irish to abandon their nature-based pagan beliefs, Patrick incorporated them into Christian celebrations. His popularity eventually led to larger-than-life myths. It’s worth noting he could not have driven snakes from Ireland as legend states, as snakes did not even live there!

Despite bringing Christianity to the Irish masses, Patrick was never canonized as a saint. It wasn’t because he was undeserving, but instead, there was just no formal canonization process at the time. But Irish Christians considered him a saint and began calling him one. Saint Patrick is believed to have died on March 17, 461 A.D., which has been commemorated ever since as his feast day.

St. Patrick’s Day began as a religious holiday and did not begin to take the form we know today until more than 1,000 years later — in America. Homesick Irish soldiers stationed in New York City staged the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1772. The event was a hit and quickly spread around the nation.

Interestingly enough, early St. Patrick’s Day revelers were more likely to wear blue than green. Blue was associated with Saint Patrick and ironically enough, green was thought to symbolize bad luck until Irish soldiers first wore the color in 1798. Over time, people believed wearing green would render them invisible to leprechauns, so the little creatures would go pinch someone else.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations grew in size over the years, with Chicago first dyeing its river green in 1962. And while St. Patrick’s Day is famously associated with drinking in most countries, it was a religious holiday in Ireland. All pubs were closed on that day until 1970.

However you celebrate the day, and whether or not you have Irish heritage, I wish you a happy St. Patrick’s Day. Even if you don’t wear the customary green, there’s always something to celebrate. Motivational speaker Carlos Wallace once said, “When you realize tomorrow is never promised, every ‘today’ is cherished. Embrace this special day with gratitude, hope, love, and joy.” It’s a motto I try to live by on St. Patrick’s Day and every day of the year.


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