History of St. Patrick's Day
St. Patrick is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland, who lived during the fifth century, and his life is celebrated every year on March 17th, the anniversary of his death in 461. The celebration in Ireland has been taking place for over 1,000 years.
Patrick was born in Roman Britain, but at the age of 16 was kidnapped and enslaved in Ireland. However, he later escaped, returned to Ireland, and brought Christianity to the people. One of most well-known legends is related to the three-leaved native Irish clover called a shamrock. It is said that Patrick used the three leaves to explain the Holy Trinity, representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The holiday began to be observed during the ninth or tenth century, though the first parade honoring this well-known saint took place in the United States on March 17, 1762 in New York City. Irish soldiers who were serving in the English military marched through the city along with music to help them reconnect with their Irish roots and other Irishmen in the army.
During the next few decades, the patriotism among Irish immigrants in America began to grow, and different organizations formed such as the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Hibernian Society. They were called Irish Aid societies. The parades grew as each organization held their own parade which featured bagpipes and drums.
In 1848, some of the societies joined together in New York and planned one big parade, the official New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade. Currently, it is the oldest civilian parade in the world and the largest in the United States with over 150,000 participants, lasting for about 5 hours. Parades are also held throughout several cities in the U.S., including large ones in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Savannah.
Overall, the early parades in America were mostly organized by members of the Protestant middle class, but in 1845 nearly 1 million poor and uneducated Irish Catholics came to America escaping the famine and starvation that was taking place in Ireland. They had trouble finding work and were treated badly by the Protestant Irish immigrants who had arrived earlier.
However, the American Irish realized their large numbers could bring them political power. They began to organize, became known as the green machine, and suddenly the St. Patrick's Day parades became a show of strength for Irish Americans. Politicians and candidates began to support and view the parades in person to show favor to the large number of Irish voters.
Chicago developed a special tradition during the St. Patrick's Day celebration in 1962 when it began dyeing the Chicago River green each year. Originally, the chemical was used to control pollution, but workers realized it also turned the water green. At one time, enough dye was added to keep the river green for a week, but today it remains green for just a few hours during the parade.
St. Patrick's Day parades are held throughout the world to honor this beloved saint. People of all backgrounds celebrate, even though in modern-day Ireland, it was traditionally a religious occasion, with the pubs (bars) in Ireland closing on March 17th. However, today, it has become more of a secular celebration with people of all races and religions celebrating in Canada, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Russia, and many other places.
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