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St. Patrick's Day Traditions, Facts And History: The Religious Backstory Explained

St Patrick first came to Ireland as a slave.

17/03/2016 12:38 GMT | Updated 17/03/2016 12:59 GMT

St Patrick's Day is best known for parades, beer, and turning rivers green, but the holiday has a long history that's more somber than its current incarnation.

Saint Patrick

St Patrick was born around 387 AD in Scotland, and turned to God once he was kidnapped by slave traders and brought to Ireland to be a shepherd.

St. Patrick journeying to Tara.

"The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same," he wrote, according to Catholic Online. "I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain."

He joined the priesthood after his escape at the age of twenty, and eventually became a bishop. Patrick was tasked with the mission of bringing Christianity to Ireland, where he was enormously successful in converting much of the mainly Druid and pagan population.

St Patrick's stone on the Hill of Tara.

History

St Patrick's Day originated as a Roman Catholic holiday recognising St Patrick, and was brought to America by Irish immigrants as a way of affirming their identity. It's since been adopted by Americans of all backgrounds.

Traditions

Some Catholics celebrate St Patrick's feast day by going to mass, while other observers of the holiday wear orange and green and eat cabbage and corned beef. St Patrick's Day parades are commonly held in many cities.

Youngsters hold flags as they watch Irish pipers move up Fifth Avenue in the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in New York, March 17, 1949.

Symbols

The shamrock is associated with St Patrick, as he reportedly used the three-leafed plant as a way of explaining the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A man dressed as St. Patrick waves at the crowd during a parade in South Boston, Massachusetts.

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