Every March 17, people all over the world wear green clothing and imagine themselves to be real Irishmen. St. Patrick’s Day is one of the most popular unofficial holidays around the world.
Green Beer © Depositphotos / Charles Wollertz
St. Patrick came from an ordinary British-Roman family, and as a youth was not particularly notable for his faith. He lived happily in Wales, where his father was a deacon in a local church. At the age of 16, St. Patrick was kidnapped and taken captive to Ireland as a slave, where he became an errand boy for a prominent local citizen. This rough life was said to have pushed him toward prayer. The Lord took compassion on him, and one night he heard a voice telling the way to abolish slavery. He escaped Ireland, and immediately went to Gaul (present-day France) to devote his life to the service of the Lord. After several years, he was ordained a bishop, and returned to Ireland as a missionary for Pope Celestine I. According to legend, St. Patrick brought writing to Ireland, although written documents there predate his arrival. Another popular legend has it that St. Patrick banished snakes from Ireland. St. Patrick popularized the shamrock, a three-leaved clover, as a symbol of the Holy Trinity in Ireland, although it may have earlier pagan roots.
The St. Patrick’s day that we observe is said to be the anniversary of his death on March 17, 493 A.D. (or, according to another version, 461 A.D.), and grateful Irishmen honor his memory to this day. Celebrations in Ireland are generally solemn, and the church marks March 17 a holy day of obligation. Worldwide, particularly in the United States, the day is marked by parades and revelry, in celebration of Ireland in general. The consumption of alcohol is deemed by many Irish-Americans to be compulsory. Curiously, bars in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick’s Day until modern times, and consumption of alcohol was deemed nearly sacrilegious.
A golden harp and shillelagh (an oaken walking stick) are as much symbols of St. Patrick Day as they are of Ireland itself. Green is so popular on this day that many pubs offer a special green-colored beer, and for the last 40 years, the Chicago River has been dyed green every March 17.
Nowadays, millions of people worldwide celebrate this holiday. It’s believed that March 17 is the only day of the year when anyone who wants to can call himself — or herself — an Irishman.
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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!