By: Jenna Zuraiki, Featured editor, The Pawprint
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated every year on March 17, people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day because it’s the anniversary of Saint Patrick’s death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a strict religious holiday for more than 1,000 years. On St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the Christian period of Lent, Irish families would generally go to church in the morning and celebrate in the evening. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and eat all the traditional Irish meals.
But who was Saint Patrick? Saint Patrick lived during the fifth century; he is the patron saint of Ireland. He was born in Roman Britain, he was captured and brought to Ireland as a slave at 16 years old. He later managed to escape, however got back to Ireland and was attributed with bringing Christianity to its people.
Soon after Patrick’s passing (it believed to have been on March 17, 461), the mythology surrounding his life turned out to be perpetually taught in Irish culture: Perhaps the most notable legend of St. Patrick is that he clarified the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock.
Since around the ninth or tenth century, people in Ireland have been noticing the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick on March 17. The very first St. Patrick’s Day parade surprisingly didn’t take place in Ireland but rather it took place in the United States. Records show that a St. Patrick’s Day parade was hung on March 17, 1601 in a Spanish state in what is now known as St. Augustine, Florida. The parade, and a St. Patrick’s Day celebrations a year earlier were organized by the Spanish Colonies Irish vicar Ricardo Artur.
Over a century later, nostalgic Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched into New York City on March 17, 1772 to respect the Irish patron saint. Enthusiasm for the St. Patrick’s Day marches in New York City, Boston and other early American urban cities just developed from there.
Over the course of the next 35 years, Irish patriotism among American immigrants thrived, provoking the rise of supposed “Irish Aid” societies like the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and the Hibernian Society. Each gathering would hold annual parades including bagpipes and drums.
In 1848, a few New York Irish Aid societies choose to join their parades to frame one official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Today, that march is the world’s oldest civilian parade and the biggest in the United States, with more than 150,000 people taking part. Every year, almost 3 million individuals line the 1.5-mile parade route just to watch the parade, which takes over five hours. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Savannah also celebrate the day with parades including somewhere in the range of 10,000 and 20,000 members each. In 2020, the New York City march was one of the first major city events that had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.