Why is St Patrick's Day celebrated? History behind feast on Saint Patrick's death and Covid-19 restrictions

While you take the celebration indoors, drinking green beer and wearing green clothing so you don't get pinched, here's what you need to know about Paddy's Day

                            Why is St Patrick's Day celebrated? History behind feast on Saint Patrick's death and Covid-19 restrictions
Celebration of St Patrick's Day (Getty Images)

St Patrick's Day is here. It's time to look for the nearest leprechaun and stock up on your shamrocks because it's time to celebrate with a loud "Erin Go Bragh!" While Ireland is set to embrace its patron saint's day by holding spirited, green parades, special spreads, Irish music and Irish flags more than usual, other countries around the world also celebrate the holiday, including the UK and United States.

Some of the events, however, have already been canceled for a second year due to the coronavirus pandemic. So while you take the celebration indoors, drinking green beer and wearing green clothing so you don't get pinched, here's what you need to know about Paddy's Day. 


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Stained-glass window of St Patrick from Saint Patrick Catholic Church, Junction City, Ohio (Wikimedia Commons)

Who was St Patrick?

St Patrick wasn't Irish. Although his exact birthplace is debated, and could have been somewhere in England, Scotland or Wales, the saint was born Maewyn Succat in Roman Britain to wealthy parents near the end of the fourth century. He is one of Christianity’s most widely known figures, but for all of his prevalence in culture —namely the holiday held on the day of his death that bears his name — his life remains somewhat of a mystery.

Revellers attend the Saint Patrick's Day parade on March 17, 2019, in Dublin, Ireland (Getty Images)

Sold as a slave by pirates

The patron saint was captured by Irish pirates from his home at the age of 16 and sold into slavery to a Druid chieftain. During his capitivity for six years, Patrick worked as a shepherd and grew closer to spirituality and prayer during this period of isolation. One day, a "voice" told him it was time to leave Ireland, following which Patrick successfully fled his master and sailed back to Britain to continue studying Christianity.

He would go on to study religious instruction in France under Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, before returning to Ireland as the country's second bishop, on advice of an angel who appeared in the dream. There he began his mission to spread the Christian message to those who had never heard it.

He is believed to have died on March 17, around 460 AD, which became a religious holiday meant to celebrate the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and made official by the Catholic Church in the early 17th century.

A waiter prepares green beers during St Patrick's Day celebrations at Sheraton Hotel on March 14, 2014, in Surabaya, Indonesia (Getty Images)

Why is St Patrick's Day celebrated?

Observed by the Catholic, the Anglican, the Eastern Orthodox and the Lutheran Churches, St Patrick's Day has been typically observed with services, feasts and alcohol. Consumption makes up an integral part of St Patrick’s Day, as historically the day was celebrated with a daylong lift of the Lenten restrictions, which include fasting and absitence, thus letting the Irish people celebrate by eating and drinking alcohol.

Celebrating by eating corned beef and drinking beer is a tradition that is now used to commemorate St Patrick's Day all over the world. The tradition of St Patrick's Day parades began more than a thousand years later, but not in Ireland.

Interestingly, they began in America, when Irish soldiers serving in the army held a march on St Patrick's Day in New York City in 1772. Since then, most major cities in America have adopted the tradition of hosting a parade. Parades in New York City and Boston make for the largest celebrations outside of Ireland.

The Feast of St Patrick, as the day is historically called, would traditionally begin with families attending church in the morning and then jumping into merriment with dance, drinks and a feast of bacon and cabbage. Irish stews and pints of Guinness are often enjoyed as part of the celebration. The Telegraph reports that as many as 13 million pints of Guinness are poured on St Patrick's Day alone, as compared to the average 10 million glasses poured every day around the world. 

A man poses with Irish beer during St Patrick's Day celebrations on March 16, 2003 in London (Getty Images)

Shamrocks, leprechauns and the color green

Legend has it that when St Patrick arrived in Ireland, he used the three-leaved shamrock to visually explain Christianity’s Holy Trinity. The metaphor worked well for pagan Ireland, where the number three already held special significance since they worshipped many triple deities. The shamrock is the national plant of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

While the patron saint was originally represented by shades of blue, the rising popularity of the shamrock symbol stressed on the significance of the colour green, which has been associated with Ireland since at least the mid-1600s. The colour became a symbol of Irish nationalism during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, when the Irish folk song 'The Wearing of Green' recognized the wearing of green and shamrocks as a rebellious act against the British.

Leprechauns are another popular symbol of the day. The creatures have long been a beloved part of Irish folklore. They are mischievous fairies known for playing pranks, but who, when captured by a human, must grant three wishes to be freed. Often depicted as little men, leprechauns are usually pictured with a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

A St Patrick's Day decoration hangs in the window of a bar closed on March 17, 2020, in New York City (Getty Images)

A very 'Covid' Paddy's Day

Parades in Ireland usually start at Parnell Square, often featuring bands from around the world. This year, however, there will be none. Traditional parades in Belfast and Dublin have been called off for the second year in a row, with many events across the island again moving online.

In England, Belfast is set to have online disco, with Irish language festivals and a virtual guided street art tour being part of its digital celebrations. Several live music concerts will be streamed, including the one at St Joseph's Church in Sailortown, which is set to celebrate with an eight-hour live-streamed event.


Live stage performances and food stalls in Trafalgar Square, London, with vibrant floats and dancers will be missing from the capital's streets will be replaced by a virtual event, hosted by the Mayor of London and London Irish Centre. The evening celebrations will be livestreamed and are set to feature Q&As with celebrities and performances from special guests.

Organisers of Awaken Ireland in Dublin have partnered with Irish national broadcaster RTÉ for a virtual parade, which will be broadcast around the world to a potential audience of 80 million people. "Greenings" of Limerick, St Colman’s Cathedral and Belvelly castle, among other buildings have taken place.

An aerial picture shot with a drone shows the Chicago River as it flows through downtown after it was dyed green in celebration of St Patrick's Day on March 13, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois (Getty Images)

The White House first recognised the Irish holiday more than 60 years ago when President Harry Truman received a gift of a box of shamrocks from Ireland's ambassador. The first St Patrick's Day meeting between the president and the Irish Taoiseach took place in 1956, and since the '90s, the meet has been held annually.

This year, Taoiseach Michael Martin has said that he will celebrate the event with President Joe Biden virtually. The two leaders will discuss, among other things, combating the viral pandemic and supporting political and economic stability in Northern Ireland, according to the White House.

The Chicago River has been traditionally dyed bright green on March 17 and attracted thousands heading to the city towards the famous St Patrick's Day sights. Although the river has been dyed bright green once again, Chicago's Patrick's Day parades will not take place for a second year in a row. It was reported to be canceled this year but the city approved a last-minute early-morning clandestine dyeing to keep the usual spectators at bay.

People view the Chicago River after it was dyed green in celebration of St Patrick's Day on March 13, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois (Getty Images)
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