St. Patrick’s Day has become a cultural phenomenon in the United States, forever associated with Irish pride, copious amounts of alcohol consumption and those weird green milkshakes from McDonald’s. But, how much do you really know about where it all came from? Here are 10 facts you may not have known about St. Patrick’s Day.
1. You Already Missed It
Though St. Patrick’s Day generally takes place on March 17, the date is moved when it coincides with Holy Week. Because Easter falls early this year, Pope Benedict moved the date of St. Patrick’s Day to March 15. Consider today a do-over.
2. St. Patrick Wasn’t Irish
The archetypical symbol of all things Irish was actually a Brit. Patrick, whose real name was Maewyn Succat, was born around 378 in Roman-controlled Britain to a fairly affluent family. But, our next fact proves the age-old adage: Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.
3. St. Patrick Was a Slave
When he was 16, Irish marauders attacked Patrick’s family’s estate and kidnapped Patrick along with several of his father’s vassals. Patrick was sold into slavery, and for six years worked as a shepherd before escaping to France.
4. St. Patrick Was Responsible for One of the Greatest Missionary Movements of All Time
After escaping from slavery, Patrick devoted himself to studying theology and doctrine. He had a passion to return to the very people who had enslaved him. In spite of the objections of his diocese, who felt he was wasting his education, Patrick returned to Ireland after being ordained as a bishop at the age of 43. As he evangelized the people, Christianity took hold quickly. Within a few short years, Ireland became one of the foremost launching points for missionaries in the world. The Irish were responsible for evangelizing most of Western Europe.
5. St. Patrick Didn’t Drive the Snakes Out of Ireland
Legend likes to see St. Patrick as a forerunner to modern-day hero Samuel L. Jackson, driving snakes off the metaphorical plane that was Ireland. However, snakes are not even indigenous to Ireland. The legend probably arose because the serpent was one of the symbols of the Celtic pagan religions.
6. St. Patrick Used the Shamrock to Explain the Trinity
The shamrock was considered a sacred plant by the Celtic religions, because it symbolized the rebirth of Spring. Patrick used the three-leafed plant to describe the unity of the Godhead to the people he was evangelizing. McDonald’s uses it to dye a vanilla milkshake green and sell it as an entirely different product.
7. Green Was Not the Original Color of St. Patrick’s Day
The original color associated with St. Patrick was blue. Green was actually considered unlucky, because it was associated with mischevious spirits. So, if you’re wearing blue today and someone pinches you, you have cause to be indignant.
8. There Are More People of Irish Descent in the United States Than in Ireland
There are currently some 34 Million United States residents who claim Irish heritage. That’s almost 10 times the population of Ireland. Of course, that number no doubt quadruples on St. Patrick’s Day.
9. The First St. Patrick’s Day Parade Took Place in Colonial New York
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a tradition older than our country. In 1766, Irish members of the British colonial army marched through New York City to honor their patron saint.
10. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is the Longest Running Civilian Parade in the World
After that initial parade in 1762, individual Irish fraternal organizations held their own parades to commemorate St. Patrick’s Day. In 1850, these parades united to form the one we know today. Yet, somehow, Regis Philbin has always been a part of it.