What is Saint Patrick’s Day?

Saint Patricks DaySaint Patrick’s Day (Irish: Lá ’le Pádraig or Lá Fhéile Pádraig), colloquially St. Paddy’s Day or Paddy’s Day, is an annual feast day which celebrates Saint Patrick (circa 385–461), one of the patron saints of Ireland. It takes place on 17 March, the date on which Patrick is held to have died.

The day is the national holiday of the Irish people. It is a bank holiday in Northern Ireland, and a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Montserrat, and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. In the rest of Canada and the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States and New Zealand, it is widely celebrated but is not an official holiday.

It became a feast day in the Roman Catholic Church due to the influence of the Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding in the early part of the 17th century, and is a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics in Ireland. The date of the feast is occasionally moved by church authorities due to clashes with Holy Week; this last happened in 1940, when Saint Patrick’s Day was observed on 3 April in order to avoid it coinciding with Palm Sunday, and will happen again in 2008, when it shall be held on 15 March to avoid Holy Monday.

Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated worldwide by Irish people and increasingly by many of non-Irish descent (usually in Australia, North America, and Ireland), hence the phrase, “Everyone wants to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” Celebrations are generally themed around all things green and Irish; both Christians and non-Christians celebrate the secular version of the holiday by wearing green or orange, eating Irish food and/or green foods, imbibing Irish drink, and attending parades.

It was also on St. Patrick’s Day that Ireland’s national cricket team pulled off one of the biggest cricketing shocks by defeating top seeded Pakistan and eliminating them from the tournament in only their 2nd World Cup match. With that victory Ireland made it through to the next round of the 2007 Cricket World Cup.

The St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin, Ireland is part of a five-day festival; over 500,000 people attended the 2006 parade. The largest St. Patrick’s Day parade is held in Chicago and it is watched by over 2 million spectators. The St. Patrick’s Day parade was first held in Boston in 1737, organized by the Charitable Irish Society. New York’s celebration began on 17 March 1762 when Irish soldiers in the British army marched through the city. Ireland’s cities all hold their own parades and festivals. These cities include Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Derry, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, and Waterford. Parades also take place in other Irish towns and villages.

St Patrick's DayOther large parades include those in Savannah, Georgia, Dallas, Cleveland, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Coatbridge, Montreal (the longest continually running St. Patrick’s Day parade, celebrating its 183rd consecutive parade in 2007), Jackson, Mississippi, Boston, Houston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Denver, St. Paul, Sacramento, San Francisco, Scranton, Seattle Butte, Detroit, Toronto, Vancouver, Syracuse, Newport, Holyoke and throughout much of the Western world. The parade held in Sydney, Australia is recorded as being the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

As well as being a celebration of Irish culture, Saint Patrick’s Day is a Christian festival celebrated in the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, and some other denominations. The day always falls in the season of Lent. Some bishops will grant an indult, or release, from the Friday no-meat observance when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday; this is sometimes colloquially known as a “corned-beef indult”. When 17 March falls on a Sunday, church calendars (though rarely secular ones) move Saint Patrick’s Day to the following Monday—and when the 17th falls during Holy Week (very rarely), the observance can be moved to the previous week or all the way to April, after Easter.

St Patricks dayIn many parts of North America, Britain, and Australia expatriate Irish, those of Irish descent, and ever-growing crowds of people with no Irish connections but who may proclaim themselves “Irish for a day” also celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, usually by drinking larger amounts of alcoholic beverages (lager dyed green, Irish beer and stout, such as Murphys, Beamish, Smithwicks, Harp or Guinness, or Irish whiskey, Irish cider, Irish coffee, or Baileys Irish Cream) than they normally would, and by wearing green-coloured clothing. The eating of Irish soda bread (which is sold in supermarkets for the occasion, but not sold during the rest of the year except in specialty stores) is also common. A recent American twist on the holiday reflecting its growing popularity among the non-Irish is the making and selling of green bagels on and near the day.

2007 marked the first annual St. Patrick’s Day parade and festival in the Scottish city of Glasgow. Despite Glasgow having a large Irish community, a parade was never thought feasible due to potential sectarian issues.

In the recent past, Saint Patrick’s Day was celebrated only as a religious holiday. It became a public holiday in 1903, by the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903, an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament introduced by the Irish MP James O’Mara. O’Mara later introduced the law which required that pubs be closed on 17 March, a provision which was repealed only in the 1970s. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade held in the Irish Free State was held in Dublin in 1931 and was reviewed by the then Minister of Defence Desmond Fitzgerald. Although secular celebrations now exist, the holiday remains a religious observance in Ireland, for both the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Church.

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17, his religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for thousands of years.

On St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink, and feast—on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage St Patrick’s Day

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