Holidays 101: Why Do We Celebrate St. Patrick's Day?

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St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17. The holiday observes the death of St. Patrick. St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland.

Where Was St. Patrick's Day First Celebrated?
St. Patrick's Day has been observed as a religious holiday in Ireland for more than 1,000 years. The holiday is during the Christian season of Lent. Traditionally, Irish families would attend church in the morning and celebrate the holiday in the evening with a meal, dancing and drinking. On St. Patrick's Day, the rules of the Lenten season are waived.

Who Was St. Patrick?
St. Patrick lived during the fifth century. He was kidnapped as a teen from Roman Britain and taken to Ireland as a slave. He eventually escaped. Later, he returned to Ireland and brought Christianity to the country.

How the Holiday Started in the U.S.
In 1845, the Great Famine hit Ireland. Nearly one million Irish Catholics escaped the famine by emigrating to the United States. Groups of immigrants formed "Irish Aid" societies. Those groups held annual parades on St. Patrick's Day that featured bagpipes and drums. In 1848, the societies in New York came together to host one large holiday parade, which still exists today. The New York City parade is known as the world's oldest civilian parade in the U.S. The parade has more than 150,000 participants and close to three million people line the parade route each year. New York is not alone; there are more than 100 parades in the U.S. Some of the largest are held annually in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Savannah.

Why Do People Wear Green on St. Patrick's Day?
Green is associated with St. Patrick's Day now, but it was not originally. Blue was the original color that represented the holiday. Historians believe that changed in the 17th century. Green has several ties to the country. It is one of the colors in the Ireland's flag and has been used in several Irish flags in history. Ireland is often referred to as the "Emerald Isle" because of the lush green land. Green is also the color of another Irish symbol, the shamrock.

Why Are People Pinched for Not Wearing Green?
It is believed the tradition of being pinched for not wearing green on St. Patrick's Day started in the U.S. Those celebrating the day thought that by wearing green they became invisible to leprechauns. The leprechauns would pinch anyone not wearing green.

St. Patrick's Day Traditions
There are several traditions associated with St. Patrick's Day. Besides wearing green, food is a big part of the celebration. The traditional dish served on St. Patrick's Day is corned beef and cabbage. In Chicago, the Chicago River is dyed green. In Savannah, the Savannah River is dyed green.

Where Is St. Patrick's Day Celebrated?
The holiday is celebrated around the world by people of Irish descent as well as those who have no Irish heritage. The largest celebrations are in the U.S., Canada and Australia. Up until the 1970s, the day was a traditional religious holiday in Ireland. Irish laws had mandated pubs to close on March 17. In the 1990s, Ireland decided to use the holiday to drive tourism. Each year, the holiday attracts about one million people to the country. A festival is held annually in Dublin.