St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. St Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17th, the day he died. Thanks to the large Irish populations around the world, St Patrick’s Day festivities are held in more countries than any other national celebration.
History of St Patrick
St Patrick was born around the year 385, probably in Scotland. His parents were Romans and they lived near the coast. Unfortunately, this was a dangerous place to live because of Irish pirates who terrorized the seas. The teenage Patrick was kidnapped by these pirates, who sold him as a slave in Ireland.
Patrick was forced to work as a shepherd, looking after sheep. Ireland at that time was Pagan and people believed in the magical powers of nature and their own gods, but once Patrick had learned the local language of Irish Gaelic, he taught the people around him about Christianity. After a few years Patrick managed to escape and return to his family. But, once he was back home, he had a dream that God was telling him to go back to Ireland. So, he trained as a priest and traveled around Ireland, spreading the message about Christianity.
St Patrick used one of the most famous symbols of Ireland to explain the important Christian idea of the Holy Trinity, or the three parts of God. That symbol is the shamrock, a small three-leafed green plant that grows anywhere you find grass. After 40 years in Ireland, he died on March 17, 461. Thousands of Irish people had converted to Christianity and many churches had been built, which is why St Patrick is also the patron saint of engineers.
St Patrick and the snakes
The legends say Ireland has no snakes because St Patrick chased them all into the sea. Now, it’s certainly true that there are no species of snakes native to Ireland but whether that’s really because of St Patrick is another question! In any case, you’ll often see statues of St Patrick with snakes at his feet – and now you know why.
How many countries celebrate St Patrick’s day?
More than 200 countries celebrate St Patrick’s Day. Its popularity is partly because of the waves of Irish emigration since the mid-1800s. Hundreds of thousands of Irish people emigrated overseas and made new lives for themselves, while bringing some of their traditions with them.
St Patrick’s Day around the world
Wherever there is an Irish population or an Irish pub, you’ll find a St Patrick’s Day celebration. But here are some of the most famous ones:
People often compare the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Dublin to Carnival as the party tends to last a few days and involves a big parade, late-night parties and a lot of Guinness! (Over 15 million pints of ‘black gold’ will be drunk during the festival.) It’s also the perfect place to try some traditional foods on St Patrick’s day, like potato bread, soda bread, and Irish stew.
Thanks to the large Irish population in the USA, St Patrick’s Day in the USA is huge. New York has held a St Patrick’s Day parade since 1762, from the times of the early Irish settlers. Today, the parade of marching bands and dancers attracts 2 million people and lasts for six hours. The Empire State Building even turns green for the occasion!
In Boston, where many Irish people settled, the parade attracts a million people, most of them dressed up in green clothing. One of the most famous St Patrick’s Day traditions takes place in Chicago when they pour vegetable dye into the river to turn it bright green for a few hours. The parade, also one of the largest in the country, has been led by the same marching band, The Shannon Rovers Irish Pipe Band, since the first parade in 1956.
In Australia, Irish pubs are the main place to join the St Patrick’s Day celebrations. There, you can even get green beer! Sydney’s iconic landmark, the Sydney Opera House, is lit with green lights. The city celebrates with Irish markets, music and over 200 Irish dancers lining the harbor to perform traditional Irish dancing. You’ll find similar celebrations in other big cities like Melbourne and Adelaide.
Tokyo has been home to a St Patrick’s Day parade for over 25 years. Asia’s largest Irish festival sees Irish dancers, marching bands and even Irish breeds of dogs all wear green for the parade in Tokyo’s Omotesando district. There’s also an ‘I love Ireland’ festival during the party weekend, with over 100,000 visitors. Tokyo’s Irish pubs throw parties and celebrate with traditional Irish beer, whisky and foods like Irish stew, strengthening cultural ties between Japan and Ireland.
Practice your English with this St Patrick’s Day quiz
Here’s our St Patrick’s Day vocabulary quiz. You’ll find the right answer colored in green. Then, try our St Patrick’s Day lesson and improve your English with ELSA! For more vocabulary quizzes on the theme of celebrations check out our post on Lunar New Year and Carnival. If you want to learn different ways of saying ‘thank you’, read all about the North American holiday of Thanksgiving.