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The History and Celebrations of St. Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick lived during the fifth century, serving as a Christian missionary and bishop. He established over 300 churches in northeast Ireland, baptized over 12,000 people, and attempted to “Christianize” the Celtic Pagan festivals. For his missionary efforts, Saint Patrick was named the patron saint of Ireland and its national apostle.

He was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at age 16. He was originally from Roman Britain. Saint Patrick escaped and later returned to Ireland. He was credited with bringing Christianity over. The most noted legend of Saint Patrick is that he explained the Holy Trinity with the three leaves of an Irish clover, the shamrock.

In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is observed as a Roman Catholic feast day on March 17.

In 1602, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in a Spanish colonyin what is now known as St. Augustine, Florida. The parade was organized by the Spanish colony’s Ricardo Artur, an Irish vicar.

Over a century and a half later, another “parade” took place on March 17, 1772, as Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched in New York City to honor St. Patrick in a time of homesickness.

These parades grew from there across early American cities into what they are today.

Today, the largest parade is the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, formed after New York Irish Aid societies decided to unite their parades in 1848. The NYC parade is the world’s oldest civilian parade, with over 150,00 participants and nearly three million people in attendance every year to observe the 1.5-mile parade route.

Cities soon began developing their own traditions for St. Patrick’s Day, like Chicago dyeing the Chicago River green. The river dyeing began after city pollution-control workers used dyes to trace illegal sewer discharge.

The story goes that Stephen Bailey, a business manager of the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local Union, saw a plumber who was wearing originally white coveralls that were stained “Irish” green from the dye that was used in the Chicago River. He then thought it would be a great idea todye the river green for St. Patrick’s Day.

When this purposeful dyeing of the river for St. Patrick’s Day first occurred in 1962, 100 pounds of green vegetable dye were released into the river, and a tradition that has endured for 62 years was born.

Today, countries all over the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The United States celebrates with beer, wears green and hosts parades. Ireland traditionally celebrated St. Patrick’s Day as a spiritual and religious occasion. However, this changed in 1995 after the Irish government decided to drive tourism and showcase Ireland and Irish culture through a national campaign to gain interest in the holiday.

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