When is St Patrick's Day 2017? What is it, who is Saint Patrick and how to celebrate the Irish event

Every year, millions of people don ginger wigs, green jackets and shamrock-adorned top hats.

They then crowd into bars across the world, where they down pints of Guinness from as early as 9 or 10am.

They do so to mark St Patrick’s Day , an annual event that celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish.

On the day, many will conveniently remember that their great-great-great-great-grandparents moved over from Ireland centuries ago.

Others, meanwhile, will try to impress fellow revellers by putting on a fake Irish accent and drunkenly wishing them: “Top o’ the mornin’ to ya.”

But why do we celebrate St Patrick’s Day? And how is it observed by people across the globe?

Here, we provide a guide to the event, which takes place on March 17 each year.

What is St Patrick’s Day?

St Patrick’s Day was originally a religious feast day for St Patrick – the patron saint of Ireland and a Christian missionary.

St Patrick, the son of a deacon and the grandson of a priest, was actually not born Irish but Scottish.

However, he is said to have spent many years in Ireland converting the pagans to Christianity before his death on March 17 in the fifth century.

Despite its origins, St Patrick’s Day has since grown into a global celebration of Irish culture, with festivities (usually, involving a fair bit of drinking) held throughout the world.

Two women dress up as Leprechauns for the horse racing at Cheltenham Festival
Two women dress up as Leprechauns for the horse racing at Cheltenham Festival
(Photo: PA)

Many wear shamrocks – three-leaved plants which St Patrick himself is said to have used to explain the Holy Trinity of God to the pagan Irish.

The day is celebrated as a national holiday in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

However, it is also widely observed across the globe, especially in the UK, America, Canada and Australia.

On March 17, the Lenten restrictions on eating meat and drinking alcohol are relaxed.

Who is St Patrick?

The first thing about St Patrick is he isn’t technically a Saint. Shock horror. He’s called Saint Patrick although he was never canonised by the Church.

He was born into a wealthy family in AD387 in Kilpatrick, Scotland. His real name was Maewyn Succat.

Records show at the age of 16, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken to Gaelic Ireland as a slave to tend and herd sheep.

During his captivity, he learned the rituals and customs of the druids – the people he eventually converted.

Patrick is said to have prayed to God more than 100 times a day. He also had a dream about God, in which he later said he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast. “You’re ship is ready,” he was told.

St Patrick is said to have spent years converting thousands of the pagan Irish to Christianity
St Patrick is said to have spent years converting thousands of the pagan Irish to Christianity
(Photo: Wikipedia (Creative Commons))

The dream led to St Patrick escaping from his captors and making his way back home, where he became a priest, like his grandfather.

The young man is then believed to have returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary after experiencing another vision where he was given a letter labelled “voice of the Irish”. When he opened it he apparently heard the voices begging him to return.

He did so, and converted thousands of the pagan Irish to Christianity in the northern half of the country. He used their symbols and Christianised them.

He would use shamrocks to explain the Holy Trinity to those he preached to, resulting in the widespread focus on the plants on St Patrick’s Day.

He is also said to have performed miracles and built churches across Ireland.

St Patrick died at Saul – where he is believed to have begun his missionary work – and was later buried at Downpatrick, County Down.

After his death on March 17, 461, he was the subject of many legends and became the foremost patron saint of Ireland.

PS… It’s St Paddy, NOT Patty

Believe it or not, some people incorrectly refer to St Patrick’s Day as ‘St Patty’s Day’, instead of ‘St Paddy’s Day’.

As many angry Irishmen have previously pointed out, the term ‘Paddy’ is derived from the Irish name, Pádraig.

In contrast, ‘Patty’ is typically used to refer to a burger – or a similar flattened cake of food.

So if you’re trying to refer to the Irish celebration and not burgers or Patty from The Simpsons, we’d suggest steering clear of ‘St Patty’s Day’.

Why Leprechauns?

Leprechauns are typically represented as mischievous creatures who dress in green and hide pots of gold
Leprechauns are typically represented as mischievous creatures who dress in green and hide pots of gold

Leprechauns are diminutive fairies from Irish folklore. Their name is taken from the Irish word leipreachán.

Nowadays, they are typically represented as mischievous creatures who dress in green, sport ginger beards and hide pots of gold.

However, they were not always depicted in this way – with early tales describing their clothing as ‘red’ and ‘laced with gold’. Their main occupation was making and mending shoes.

Warwick Davis as a Leprechaun
Just Warwick Davis dressed as a Leprechaun
(Photo: Getty)

If you catch one of the wrinkled fairies, it is said that they must lead you to their treasure and may also grant you three wishes (sort of like a genie).

Revellers tend to dress up as leprechauns on St Patrick’s Day because of the creatures’ iconic status and eye-catching appearance.

Others simply wear green – a colour that has been associated with Ireland and St Patrick’s Day since the mid-17th century.

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St Patrick’s Day 2017

Where is St Patrick’s Day celebrated?

Although it is treated as a national holiday in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, St Patrick’s Day is also celebrated across the world – and even in outer space.

In 2011, astronauts on board the International Space Station honoured the event by playing flutes and tin whistles belonging to the Irish group, The Chieftains.

And in 2013, Chris Hadfield took photos of Ireland and one of himself wearing a green bow tie while floating weightless in the space station.

In Ireland, celebrations are held across the country, with the two largest taking place in Dublin and Downpatrick, where St Patrick himself was buried.

The beautiful Colosseum in Rome, Italy, glows green on March 17
The beautiful Colosseum in Rome, Italy, glows green on March 17

The festivities include enormous parades and festivals, with musical performances, dancing and fireworks.

In the UK, Birmingham hosts what is described as the third biggest St Patrick’s Day parade in the world, which covers two miles through the city centre.

The horse racing at Cheltenham Festival in Gloucestershire also usually coincides with the annual celebration.

Racegoers pose for photographs wearing shamrock covered suits during St Patrick's Day at the Cheltenham Festival
Racegoers pose for photographs wearing shamrock covered suits during St Patrick’s Day at the Cheltenham Festival
(Photo: Ben Pruchnie/Getty)

There’s an event this year on the 16th – with a special race to mark the day.

In the United States, St Patrick’s Day is widely observed across many states as a celebration of Irish and Irish American culture.

In Chicago, Illinois, thousands of people gather annually to see the Chicago River dyed green for the occasion.

And in New York, a parade is held on Fifth Avenue, which sees live bands, leprechauns and dancers waving U.S. and Irish flags take to the streets.

Other countries that mark St Patrick’s Day include Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland.

Nelsons Column in London also typically turns green for the occasion
Nelsons Column in London also typically turns green for the occasion
(Photo: PA)

What to wear on St Patrick’s Day

If you’re planning to celebrate Patrick’s Day – whether that’s at a pub or in the comfort of your own home – you might wish to wear one or more of the following:

– A shamrock (or a horde of them… to get fully into the spirit of the Irish)

– Green clothing

– A green top hat

– Green accessories (think hair bows, hair dye, make-up and nail varnish)

– …basically, anything green

– A ginger wig or beard

When is St Patrick’s Day?

St Patrick’s Day is celebrated every year on March 17.

How to say Happy St Patrick’s Day in Irish Gaelic

If you’re planning on impressing your friends or celebrating the special event in Ireland this year – you might want to know how to say ‘Happy St Patrick’s Day’ in Gaelic. The Irish phrase is “La Fheile Padraig”.

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