Few saints are celebrated quite like Saint Patrick, the patron Saint of Ireland. Colorful face paint, shamrock paraphernalia, parades and dancing — the revelry is endless (and unabashedly green). Not bad for a man who was kidnapped from his home as a youth.
Beg your pardon? Yep, that’s not the only titbit about Paddy that might come as a surprise. Before you get dressed up for the big day, consider the color of choice for the man himself. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t green. And those shamrocks you’re face painting? They’re more significant than you might expect. Here are eight things about St. Patrick’s Day you can digest (along with that pint of creamy Guinness).
St Patrick was a slave
If you’re after good craic on March 17, there’s nowhere like the Emerald Isle. Yet back in the 4th century, Patrick himself wasn’t having much fun. First, his home in Britain was burnt to the ground by raiders (yep, that’s right — Britain, not Ireland). To make matters worse, 16-year-old Paddy was taken to Ireland and held captive for six years. He managed to escape back across the Irish Sea and started religious training. Later Patrick – or Maewyn Succat, as he was then known – returned and supposedly rid Ireland of its snakes. Now that’s worth raising a toast to!
St Patrick actually dressed in blue
You’d stand out like a sore thumb if you chose to wear blue on Paddy’s Day. Yet if Patrick was parading through the streets of Dublin himself, you’d be in good company. Most historians agree that he wore blue, not green. After the 1798 Irish Rebellion against British rule, the shamrock became a symbol of nationalism. Soon, wearing green came to represent the struggle for Irish independence. There’s more to those green costumes than meets the eye!
The Shamrock represents the Holy Trinity
Nowadays organizations find memorable logos to represent their brand. Back in the fourth century, it was no different. When St. Patrick came to Ireland as a missionary, he chose the shamrock to symbolize Christianity. Why? Its three leaves were the ideal symbol of God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As for the fourth leaf — legend has it Eve carried such a clover in the Garden of Eden.
Irish bars didn’t celebrate the day until the sixties
It’s known as one of the booziest days in the annual calendar. Up until 1961 though, you couldn’t get a tipple in an Irish pub on St Patrick’s Day. The heavily Catholic country was concerned about binge drinking during Lent. As such, the government forced all pubs to close on March 17. Since the 60s though, Irish bars have played host to a rather different scene.
St. Patrick’s Day parades began in the States
His name might be synonymous with Ireland, but in reality, St. Patrick is a global phenomenon. In fact, parades in his honor began in the U.S! Irish soldiers in the English army began marking the day with marches through New York in 1762. Nowadays, the Chicago city council goes so crazy for Paddy’s Day that it dyes the Chicago River green!
A Franciscan Priest made St. Patrick’s Day a big deal
When you clink glasses this Paddy’s Day, say ‘cheers’ to little-known Luke Wadding. Without the influence of this Franciscan priest, it’s unlikely we’d still be celebrating the day. Wadding was an advocate for oppressed Irish Catholics at the Vatican in Rome. There, he pushed for St Patrick to have his own day recognized by the Church. Today, the wild antics on March 17 would be unrecognizable to Wadding. He reportedly marked the day with ‘great solemnity’!
St Patrick is the patron saint of Montserrat, as well as Ireland
St Patrick’s Day – the day to dress as a leprechaun and gulp gallons of Guinness, right? On the Caribbean island of Montserrat, it’s a little more significant than that. On March 17 1768, there was a failed slave rebellion on the island. But what’s the connection with Ireland? Well, the Irish were some of the first settlers there. Nowadays, there’s a ten-day festival in honor of the uprising. Now that’s a party that packs a punch (tropical punch, that is).
The Irish gift the U.S president with a bowl of shamrocks each year
Luck isn’t the only thing you need to do the world’s most important job well. Yet finding a four-leaf clover in a bowl of shamrock can’t harm anything! Every year, the Taoiseach – the head of the Irish government – gifts the American President with just that. The Taoiseach has presented the Waterford crystal bowl in Washington each year since the 1950s. Who knows whether a lucky clover is included?