St. Patrick’s Day. History of the holiday and a funny story

St. Patrick’s Day: history, traditions and customs

St. Patrick is the most revered saint in Ireland, it is believed that it was he who brought Christianity to the “Emerald Isle,” baptized Ireland and rid Ireland of paganism. But for centuries now his memorial day is celebrated not only in Ireland itself, but also in many other countries – Canada, Great Britain, the United States and Nigeria, and 10 years ago Russia joined these countries as well.

St. Patrick is the most revered saint in Ireland, it is believed that it was he who brought Christianity to the “Emerald Isle,” baptized Ireland and rid Ireland of paganism. However, for several centuries now his memorial day is celebrated not only in Ireland itself, but also in many other countries – Canada, Britain, the United States, Nigeria, and 10 years ago Russia joined these countries.

However, for us it is more of an opportunity to have fun, drink beer and dance to the bagpipes, because Patrick is a saint of the Catholic Church, and refers to Orthodoxy indirectly.

However, this holiday has its own history and traditions, will tell you about them.

The history of St. Patrick’s Day

According to popular belief, St. Patrick came from a wealthy and very religious English family, and he had a prosperous future. But when he was 16, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland, where for 6 years he herded cattle for an Irish “gentleman”.

Prior to his kidnapping, the young man was not religious, despite the fact that his father and grandfather had spiritual ministries. A strong faith in God, by Patrick’s own admission, came to him in slavery, when he prayed daily and nightly for patience and salvation.

Legend has it that one night Patrick heard a voice in his sleep calling him to flee: “Run, a ship is waiting for you. So the young man began to make his way to the sea, where he actually found a ship ready to sail. He had long begged the captain to take him with him, but the latter refused, for Patrick had nothing to pay for the passage. He was rescued by the captain’s assistant, who answered the young man’s fervent prayers and led him onto the ship.

On his return home, Patrick deepened his religious life and is even believed to have spent some years in the monasteries of Gaul, where he became a bishop. True, according to other sources, he was not ordained and did not have a religious rank.

Nevertheless, some time later Patrick heard again in a dream a voice calling him to return to Ireland and bring the light of Catholicism there. It is believed that his missionary work was blessed by the Pope himself, and that Patrick was to replace Bishop Palladius (Palladius), who had died the year before.

Everything about Patrick’s stay in Ireland is covered with legends and speculation, because there are almost no written sources about these events, and Patrick himself left behind only two documents – the Confession, in which he reflects more on his spiritual growth, but does not mention his biography, and a letter to a certain Korotik, who may have been an outlaw.

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Legends, however, say that Patrick traveled throughout Ireland and sometimes baptized up to a hundred people in a day, as his eloquence was so great that people would gather around him and ask to be baptized themselves.

St. Patrick’s Day: history, traditions and customs

It is believed that St. Patrick used the example of the shamrock (clover leaf) to explain the principle of Christianity to pagans: as three leaves are joined together on one stem, so the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in one faith. The shamrock has since become the symbol of Ireland.

Another legend says that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, gathering them at his feet, he commanded them to leave the country forever. According to another version, however, this legend should not be taken literally, since Patrick fought primarily against paganism and “drove” not snakes from Ireland as such, but the cult of the Celtic (Druidic) fertility god Cernunnos, who was just depicted as a big snake. And, by the way, this is more likely to be true, as there were no snakes in Ireland at that time by climatic conditions.

Nevertheless, St. Patrick remained in the memory of the Irish as a man who brought Christianity and constantly performed miracles. And for several centuries the day of Saint’s death – March 17 – is celebrated as a national Irish (and not only) holiday. Characteristically, it used to be a purely religious event, during which all the drinking establishments were closed, people spent time in penitential prayers and masses were served.

Now, on the contrary, the holiday is more secular, accompanied by processions, carnivals, songs, dances, and musical competitions. Although for the devout Catholics it still begins with Mass.

Customs and traditions


In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day begins on March 12, and people prepare for it almost the whole year. Costumes are invented and sewn, souvenirs are produced, music is written and new dances are learned.

From March 12 to 17 Ireland goes completely green. Even the hair and beards of solid citizens turn green, emerald or lettuce. There is a belief that if a person is not wearing at least one green detail on St. Patrick’s Day, any passerby can pinch them.

The Americans in this case went even further – in Chicago, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, even the river is painted green. Also in all countries where this day is celebrated, green beer is incredibly popular.

Shamrock .

A special place in St. Patrick’s Day takes trefoil – it is drawn on the cheeks, pinned on hats or clothes, embroidered on flags and pennants. There is a belief that if you find a leaf of clover with four leaves on March 17, then the whole year the person will be accompanied by incredible luck.

St. Patrick’s Day: history, traditions and customs

By the way, there is an opinion that shamrock (so also called trefoil) is not clover at all, but what you and I call “sourroot” or “hare’s cabbage”. True, in snowy March Russia, there are few places to find both clover and sagebrush, so we have only to draw and embroider a trefoil with four petals, hoping that this image will bring us happiness .

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The last glass of beer

Also, the last glass of alcohol drunk on St. Patrick’s Day is symbolic and is called “drown the shamrock.” There is a legend that if you throw a shamrock leaf into this glass, drink it, and then pull the shamrock out of the empty glass and throw it over your left shoulder, you will have a monetary and successful life throughout the year.


More recently, another symbol of St. Patrick’s Day has become the leprechaun, an Irish folkloric character, a little man as tall as a child. One fairy tale says he fixes the boots of fairies.

This red-bearded man has a bad temper and knows where treasures are hidden. Therefore, it is believed that if you catch a leprechaun on March 17 and keep an eye on him, he in exchange for freedom will tell you where the pot of gold, for which Ireland is so famous, is buried.

10 questions about St. Patrick

March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day. The whole world drinks beer and gets drunk out of its mind. But why get drunk on St. Patrick’s Day? Who is this Patrick? Did he really exist? When was this holiday invented and why has it become popular around the world? Celtologist Tatiana Mikhailova answers the questions of Arzamas

1. Why does everyone drink on Saint’s Day?

Isaac Krukshenk. St. Patrick’s Day Morning. 1803 National Maritime Museum / Royal Museums Greenwich

On the one hand, St. Patrick’s Day was not originally a religious holiday: it was invented by Irish immigrants who ended up in the United States to come together and remember their origins. On the other hand, it has been a tradition in Ireland since antiquity to celebrate holidays with great passion, as the sagas tell us. For example, in the saga “Drunkenness of the Earls” its hero Cuchulain invited King Conchobar to a feast and stocked up on beer – “150 barrels of beer of every kind”. The preparation of food and drink for the royal feast is also described in the saga “The Feast at the Goose Fortress” and in many other places. So we can say that St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 is not connected with religion as such, but rather with archaic rituals that are primarily socially oriented.

2. Who was Patrick really?

Edward Reginald Frampton. St. Patrick sailing to the shores of Ireland. About 1912 © Diomedia

This is a very difficult question. The fact is that there are different legends about a man named Patrick. One tells of a young man from a noble Christian Romano-British family. He was born at the end of the fourth century, and in his youth was captured by Irish pirates and enslaved. Six years later he managed to escape from Ireland to Gaul and then to Rome. The second is about a man who in 432 began preaching Christianity in Ireland, calling himself a bishop (although it is not clear who ordained him and where). In the seventh century the first Latin hagiographies of Patrick appear, in which these two stories are merged into one.

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However, scholars of the Church of Ireland doubt that it is the same man. As early as the 1940s historian Thomas O’Rahilly hypothesized the existence of two Patricians and suggested that they be called Patricius Junior and Patricius Senior (that is, “junior” and “senior”). This assumption allows us to relate the scattering of the dates of the saint’s death in the Irish annals – from 461 to 492 or even later.

The main source of biographical information about Patrick was the Confession, allegedly written by him. Its earlier editions have not survived – only a list from 630, the authenticity of which remains questionable. In 1905, Irish historian John Bury suggested that there was no Patrick at all, and that his biography was the product of monks’ compilation. In 1962 a work by Daniel Binchy, a specialist in Irish law, philologist and linguist, appeared: from his point of view, Patrick not only existed, but he himself wrote the “Confession”.

In short, the problem of restoring the real biography of the Baptist of the Irish is very complex and does not have an unequivocal solution. But this is not a big deal: over many centuries his legendary biography has lined up quite completely, and the Irish believe that the noble young man did return to lead the people out of the darkness of paganism, his staff came directly from Christ and that it was Patrick who drove all snakes from the island True, there are also legends that he did not really drive them out, but told them to hide in the swamps, in the mountains, in caves and not to appear to people as long as the faith in Christ and Patrick remains on the island. .

3 If Patrick is not Irish, why did he become the symbol of Ireland?

James Barry. The baptism of the king at Cashel by St. Patrick. 1800-1801 National Gallery of Ireland

Because he baptized Irish pagans into Christianity. If the Confession is to be believed, an angel appeared to slave Patrick and told him to flee Ireland: there was a ship waiting for him on the seashore, sailing for Gaul. The angel was sent by God, who wanted the young man to baptize the Irish, so then Patrick went back to the island. There he preached Christianity, fought the pagan kings, the Druid priests, and the teachings of the British theologian Pelagius, whose teachings (in fact, heresy) spread widely across the country Pelagius believed that original sin had no effect on human nature and that everyone could communicate with God directly, without the mediation of the Church. Pelagianism was condemned at the Council of 418, and in 431 Pope Celestine sent Bishop Palladius to Ireland to bring Irish Christians back into the fold of the Catholic Church. Therefore, the same Thomas O’Rahilly believed that Patrick and Palladius were one and the same person. In any case, it is Patrick, an outsider, who is assigned the role of savior of the people, deliverer from darkness and other troubles.

4. When did this day become a popular holiday? What talented marketer invented it?

It happened around the middle of the 18th century, but not in Ireland, but in America, where there were many Irish immigrants who began to actively celebrate the day. Before that, the date of St. Patrick’s death – March 17 – was remembered only in narrow church circles. In 1761-1762, parades were held in several cities, and since then St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated by Irish immigrants not only in the United States, but also in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and even Argentina. In Ireland itself, then still part of the United Kingdom, St. Patrick’s Day came only in 1903: March 17 was officially declared a national holiday and a day off. But the first parade in honor of St. Patrick’s Day was held in Dublin in 1931, ten years after the country gained its independence. In the 1990s, a real advertising campaign to promote St. Patrick’s Day began. So, the tradition to drink dark, heavy and strong beer on this day was also imposed from above (before that, on the contrary, pubs were closed on March 17 in Ireland so that people would drink less). Who exactly came up with all this is unknown, but the definition of “talented marketer” is very accurate.

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5. What did Patrick himself say about libations?

Adrian Collart. The Miracles of St. Patrick. Scenes from the Life of St. Patrick. 1603 National Gallery of Ireland

This is unknown. The medieval historian Dorothy Bray, in her Index of Irish Hagiography, writes that Patrick turned water into wine, referring to St. Patrick’s three-part hagiography, Vita Tripartita. However, the text of the hagiography describes a somewhat different case: young Patrick scooped up water from the river with a jug and turned it into honey, which miraculously cured all diseases. So there is no definite answer to the question of St. Patrick’s attitude toward libation. St. Brigitta is another matter. She not only brewed beer in large quantities and gladly treated everyone to it, but also miraculously accelerated its fermentation, so that her process, which took several days, was reduced to one hour.

6. Why is Patrick associated with clovers and leprechauns?

Stained glass window depicting St. Patrick holding a leaf of clover and a leprechaun © Jubilee Museum and Catholic Cultural Center, Columbus, Ohio

Virtually all Christian holidays are associated with days revered by pagans. There is an Irish proverb that can be translated roughly as, “Like salmon in midstream, so is Patrick’s Day in mid-spring.” Indeed, spring for the Irish begins on February 1, on St. Brigid’s Day, when the daylight hours increase noticeably. March 17, therefore, falls in the middle of spring, that is, it marks the turn toward warmth and light. Clover is an archaic symbol associated with sun worship. The conventional image of the shamrock can be found in Ireland on the walls of the so-called New Grange, a religious building built about five thousand years ago. In order not to abandon the ancient symbol, the Irish rethought it: there was a legend that with three leaves on one stem St. Patrick showed the dogma of the Trinity. Well, leprohans, or leprechauns, are the inhabitants of the forest who come to people on warm days.

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7. What kind of preacher and writer was Patrick?

The manuscript page with St. Patrick’s Confession. Armagh, circa 807 Trinity College Dublin Library

In his years of slavery to the Irish, Patrick learned the local mores quite well: becoming a later preacher, he acted quite skillfully. There are tales of Patrick’s rivalries with the local Druids, in whom he rightly saw as the chief enemies of Christianity. One summer day the Druids, priests among the ancient Celtic peoples. pelted the fields with snow. Everyone was stunned by their power. But Patrick told them to remove the snow because the crops would die. “The snow itself will melt later,” replied the Druids. Then Patrick crossed the fields, and the snow disappeared. Another time the druids milked a bucket of milk from a bull. Everyone was shocked again. Patrick crossed the bucket and everyone saw that it was not milk, but slime and blood. The bull, on the other hand, was lying there dying. Patrick poured the bucket on his back and the bull came back to life. In other words, St. Patrick was constantly demonstrating his superiority over the local magicians, and his preaching was not philosophical, but demonstrative.

Patrick’s most famous text is the Latin Confession, in which he recounts his life. Here we suddenly see a man tormented by all kinds of reproaches, suspicions of theft, vanity, and so on. He constantly has to justify himself. If we are to believe the Confessions, his enemies were not only druids and pagan kings, but also local scholars, Christians and scribes, for whom Patrick was an outsider.

In “Confessions,” Patrick tells us that when he was young, while he was still in Britain, he committed a sin and told a close friend about it. And he told everyone around him! So Patrick repents of something that maybe no one would have known. What that sin was is not known: perhaps participation in pagan rituals, perhaps sex, or perhaps he was stealing pears, like St. Augustine. In any case, the mention of adolescent sin is not accidental: it is an obligatory episode in the genre of confession.

8. Is this day a grassroots culture or did Joyce also respect Patrick?

Celebrating Bloomsday. 1962 © James P. O’Dea / National Library of Ireland

Joyce probably had no particular sympathy for Patrick, since he had a generally poor view of the Church and preferred his day to the Bloomsday, or Bloom’s Day, which he invented June 16, 1904, Joyce met his future wife Nora and later immortalized the day in Ulysses. As early as 1924 Joyce’s admirers began to celebrate Bloomsday by reproducing the journey of Leopold Bloom, the hero of the novel, through Dublin. , the hero of the novel “Ulysses” (1922). At the same time, one should not think of St. Patrick’s Day as a grassroots holiday: as we said above, it is not a folklore holiday, but a holiday descended from above and not existing in the popular tradition.

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