Who was St. Patrick? Why are shamrocks a symbol of this day? Enjoy St. Patrick’s Day history, legend, and lore!
When is St. Patrick’s Day?
St. Patrick’s Day always occurs on March 17.
|Year||St. Patrick’s Day|
|2019||Sunday, March 17*|
|2020||Tuesday, March 17|
|2021||Wednesday, March 17|
*Note: On those years when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Sunday or during Holy Week, the Almanac keeps it there and treats it as a secular holiday only. Churches may transfer this to another date, however, for the feast day. Or, cities may change their celebration date.
Who Was Saint Patrick?
St. Patrick was patron saint and national apostle of Ireland who is credited with successfully bringing Christianity to Ireland.
March 17 is widely accepted as the date of St. Patrick’s death in A.D. 461.
Was there really a St. Patrick? Definitely. Did he really drive the snakes out of Ireland? Probably not, since snakes weren’t native to Ireland.
St. Patrick was born in Britain as Maewyn Succat. At age 16 (around A.D. 400), he was kidnapped from his home on the west coast and carried off to Ireland to become a slave who worked as a shepherd. After six years, he escaped; upon returning home, he received his call (in a dream) to preach the Gospel. He spent the next 15 or so years in a monastery, preparing for his missionary work. When he became a priest, his name was changed to Patricius, and eventually, Patrick. Although some Christians lived in Ireland at the time, it was Patrick who spread Christianity throughout the land and brought an organized church into existence.
A stained glass recreation of St. Patrick holding a shamrock, found in Junction City, Ohio. Photo by Nheyob/Wikimedia Commons.
We wear a shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day because, legend says, St. Patrick used its three leaves to explain the Holy Trinity. (The Trinity is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit as three divine persons who are one divine being [God].) The truth of the St. Patrick legend, however, is in question, as there is no direct record that the saint actually used the shamrock as a teaching tool.
Note: The symbol of St. Patrick is a three-leaf shamrock, not a four-leaf clover. However, long before the shamrock became associated with St. Patrick’s Day, the four-leaf clover was regarded by ancient Celts as a charm against evil spirits. In the early 1900s, O. H. Benson, an Iowa school superintendent, came up with the idea of using a clover as the emblem for a newly founded agricultural club for children in his area. In 1911, the four-leaf clover was chosen as the emblem for the national club program, later named 4-H.
St. Patrick’s Day Facts, Fun, and Folklore
- Blue was the color originally associated with St. Patrick, but green is now favored.
- The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in the American colonies was held in New York City on this day in 1762.
- St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional day for planting peas, even in the snow! See our fun video on how to plant peas.
- Cabbage seeds are often planted today, too, and old-time farmers believed that to make them grow well, you needed to plant them while wearing your nightclothes! See our Cabbage Growing Guide. No PJs required!
On St. Patrick’s Day, the warm side of a stone turns up,
and the broad-back goose begins to lay.
St. Patrick’s Day Recipes
Would you like to cook something special for St. Patrick’s Day? You don’t need the luck of the Irish! Check out our list of St. Patrick’s Day recipes for corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, and more ideas beyond green milk and beer!
How do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Let us know in the comments!