St. Patrick's Day is generally seen as an opportunity to wear green from head to toe and sing "Danny Boy" while drinking pints of Guinness at the pub, celebrating even the smallest bit of Irish lineage. While most people generally look forward to any excuse to party their shamrocks off, St. Patrick's Day is an old holiday with a very deep meaning to the people of Ireland.
Here are 10 facts to celebrate the illustrious history of St. Paddy's Day.
1. Patrick wasn’t even his real name.
When St. Patrick was born in the late fourth century, his name was actually Maewyn Succat. According to IrishAbroad.com, he was given the name "Patritius" when he was ordained into the Catholic priesthood.
2. He also wasn't Irish.
Yes, seriously. Though St. Patrick is most associated with his work in Ireland, he wasn't even born in the country, and neither were his parents. He was born and raised in Roman Britain, in what Historic UK believes would be modern-day Wales.
3. St. Patrick may have been involved with slavery.
Historical accounts of St. Patrick's life typically include tales of him being abducted at 16 years old and sent to Ireland to work on a farm as a slave for 6 years. While enslaved, it is said that St. Patrick then received his calling from God to preach and convert others to Christianity.
However, Dr. Roy Flechner of Cambridge University believes that story isn't accurate, and rather than being a slave himself, St. Patrick was a slave owner. Flechner believes that the historical evidence supports St. Patrick fleeing to Ireland as a means of avoiding being a tax collector for the Roman empire, which was a very dangerous job at the time.
4. Sales of alcohol used to be illegal on St. Patrick’s Day.
This one seems sort of hard to believe, given how times have changed. Though St. Patrick was not well known when he died on March 17 in the 5th century, tales of his works spread after his death, and he was honored with a religious holiday. Due to Irish law regarding religious holidays, the sale of alcohol was prohibited on St. Patrick's Day. This law was repealed in the 1970s.
5. St. Patrick wore blue, not green.
Though green is currently the trademark color of St. Patrick's Day, that was not always the case. For many years, St. Patrick was honored with the color blue. "St. Patrick's blue" spanned several centuries, and the man is typically depicted as wearing some shade of blue, Time reports.
Over time, the holiday grew beyond merely honoring St. Patrick, and eventually became a day to honor Irish heritage as well. Because green was the color used to represent Irish independence, it eventually became associated with St. Patrick's Day as well.
6. St. Patrick did not literally chase snakes out of Ireland.
One of the most common accounts of St. Patrick's story is that he effectively chased all of the snakes out of Ireland, as evidenced by the fact that there are no wild snakes there today. However, this would have been an incredibly easy task for him, as there were no snakes in Ireland prior to his arrival, either. Snakes are cold-blooded and rely on heat from the sun to stay warm, and Ireland's climate is much too cold to support them. National Geographic reports that snakes haven't been in Ireland since the last Ice Age.
Instead of literally chasing snakes away, the claim is likely made in a figurative sense. "Snakes" likely refers to the pagans he converted to Christianity while preaching across Ireland.
7. Shamrocks were used to teach about the Holy Trinity.
As St. Patrick traveled throughout Ireland, converting people to Christianity, he used a simple shamrock as a visual aid. Each of the three leaves of the clover were used to represent the Holy Trinity: the father, the son, and the holy ghost.
Four-leaf clovers, which are widely considered to be lucky, are merely caused by genetic mutations in the plant. As Scientific American explains, this mutation affects about 1 in 10,000 clovers. This apparent rarity might be why it's considered "lucky" to find one. But, since clovers are common and grow densely together, a keen eye should be able to spot one when searching a 1.2 square meter patch of clover.
8. The first St. Paddy’s Day parade was in the United States.
Though there are countless St. Patrick's Day parades around the world to honor Irish heritage, the first one occurred in 1762 on the streets of New York City. Irish soldiers, who were assisting the British during the pre-Revolutionary War era, marched down the street in order to celebrate their origins.
Irish Americans have continued the tradition and still march in honor of their heritage every March 17.
9. "Erin go Bragh" translates to "Ireland Forever."
The original Irish phrase is Éirinn go Brách, but is now most commonly seen in its anglicized version that came about during the 1800s. Strict translation into English would read "Ireland Until Eternity," but "Ireland Forever" is a short and snappy version of the expression.
Either way, it is a phrase meant to express devotion to Ireland and celebrate Irish heritage.
10. Tales of leprechauns have been around for centuries.
Leprechauns are typically portrayed as tiny men with bad attitudes and an obsession for stealing gold. LiveScience reports that mythology of leprechauns dates back to the eight century. Originally, leprechauns were described as naughty shoe makers who would trade gold or jewelry for granting wishes, though they were often tricky and troublesome when it came to making good on their end of a bargain.
Cover image via iStock / ChelFoto.