Who is Saint Patrick & What is St. Patrick’s Day

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We all know about Christmas, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Our kids know these stories because they hear them as they grow up. One story they may not know about is the story of Saint Patrick’s Day. Your children may ask you “Who is Saint Patrick” and if they do are you prepared to answer them? I was caught off guard when my son asked me who was Saint Patrick and what is Saint Patrick’s day; I had no clue. Instead of just telling him what I thought it was (a day everyone pinches anyone not wearing green..see why I didn’t tell him?!) I decided it would be a fun and educational way for us to spend some time together.

We took a trip to the library to check out some books on Saint Patrick, Ireland and the tradition of Saint Patrick’s Day. We brought them home and arranged the 6 books in order of interest. We skimmed through the books together and found out a bunch of neat facts. Here’s the shortened version you can use when your children ask (or if you’d like to know yourself who Saint Patrick was and why we celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day.)

Who exactly was Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick was born in Britain during the 4th century. He was the son of a Christian deacon and at the age of 16 was abducted and taken to Ireland by a group of Irish Raiders.

Saint Patrick was enslaved in Ireland for 6 years during which time he turned to his religion to comfort him. Saint Patrick became a devout Christian during his captivity and it was that devotion that led him to escape. He wrote in a letter that it was the voice of God that told him to flee from  Ireland. His escape led him to walk 200 miles from County Mayo to the Irish Coast. Years later he would return to Ireland in the attempt to minister to and convert non Christians to Christianity.

Saint Patrick is credited with the creation of the Celtic Cross as he is said to have implemented the sun symbol into the cross.

Although never formally canonised by a Pop, Saint Patrick is held to be the patron Saint of Ireland.

Tall Tales About Saint Patrick

There are many tall tales about Saint Patrick that were created through highly exaggerated stories. One of the more well known tales is the cleansing of Ireland of snakes.

Another tale is that of the walking stick he used to travel back to Ireland. It is said that he thrust the stick into the ground and due to the amount of time it took for his message to get through to people the walking stick took roots and grew from the ground.

The final tale we enjoyed was that of the Shamrock, which is still used as a symbol for Saint Patrick’s Day today. It is said that St. Patrick used the shamrock to symbolize and teach about the Holy Trinity in Christian culture.


Traditions of Saint Patrick’s Day

March 17th is believed to be the date Saint Patrick died, and thus the declaration of St. Patrick’s Day. It was made an official feast day in the early seventeenth century.

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many countries including the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia, and many more.

Even though we wear green today in celebration of St. Patrick’s day, the original symbolized color was blue. The color green came about as people wore shamrocks on their clothing in celebration of the day.

In Chicago, overseers dye the Chicago River green in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

I’m not too sure where the leprechauns come into play for Saint Patrick’s Day, but  according to St. Patrick’s Day: Parades, Shamrocks, and Leprechauns by Elaine Landau the legend is that the fairies pay the leprechauns for their work with golden coins, which the “little people” collect in large pots – the famous “pots of gold” often associated with leprechauns. It may also stem off of the Disney movie Darby O’Gill & the Little People.

Cabbage is a long time staple of Ireland. The combination with corned beef began at the turn of the century when Irish immigrants living in New York substituted the corned beef for their Irish bacon to save money. 

The history of Saint Patrick and St. Patrick’s Day is filled with stories, both fact and fiction, that is sure to entertain children and parents alike. If you’d like to do some family reading of your own, here is the book list we checked out:

Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs: The Story of the St. Patrick’s Day Symbols
by Edna Barth

St. Patrick’s Day: Parades, Shamrocks, and Leprechauns
by Elaine Landau

This Is Ireland
by M. Sasek

The Last Snake in Ireland: A Story About St. Patrick
by Sheila Macgill-Callahan

St Patrick: The Real Story: As Told in His Own Words
by Jim McCormack

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland
by Tomie dePaola

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