There are so many legends and myths surrounding Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Most people think of his feast day as a welcome to the earliest signs of spring. They associate the day with leprechauns, shamrocks, and green beer as well as the elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But there is actually much more to the story.
Patrick was born in what is now Wales, around the year 390. When he was sixteen, he was captured by Irish raiders who enslaved him for six years. While herding sheep for a local chieftain in the north of Ireland, Patrick was introduced to Christianity . Legend tells us that an angel appeared to Patrick in a dream and told him of a ship that would soon be leaving Ireland for the continent. He walked for over two hundred miles and finally found the ship still in port. After much prayer, Patrick was able to convince the ship's captain to allow him passage home. Once there, he entered the clergy and was ultimately given the name of Patricus when he became a bishop. He then returned to Ireland as a missionary. As soon as he arrived to his place of enslavement, Patrick began to preach to his former kidnappers. His knowledge of Ireland's language and customs aided him in converting thousands of Druid priests, chieftains, gentry, and peasants before his death on March 17 in 461 A. D.
Although Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland, many of the most familiar St. Patrick's Day celebrations developed right here in the United States. Every March 17 people celebrate the day from coast to coast. Step dancers and marching bands parade through city streets. People don green clothing , drink green beer, and feast upon the traditional boiled dinners of corned beef and cabbage. The city of Chicago actually dyes its river green!
These festive traditions originated in the United States because of the tremendous influx of Irish immigrants.
In Ireland, Saint Patrick's Day is considered a holy day. In 1631, the feast day was proclaimed to honor the death of the missionary who spread Christianity throughout Ireland. As a matter of fact, prior to the Irish Rebellion in 1798, the color blue, not green, was associated with Patrick.