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Customs and Traditions of St. Patrick's Day

The person who was to become St.  Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Wales about AD 385.  His given name was Maewyn, and he almost didn't get the job of bishop of Ireland because he lacked the required scholarship. Far from being a  saint, until he was 16, he considered himself a pagan. At that age, he  was sold into slavery by a group of Irish marauders that raided his  village. During his captivity, he became closer to God.

He escaped from slavery after six  years and went to Gaul where he studied in the monastery under St.  Germain, bishop of Auxerre for a period of twelve years. During his  training he became aware that his calling was to convert the pagans to  Christianity.

His wishes were to return to Ireland, to convert the pagans that had overrun the country. But his superiors  instead appointed St. Palladius. But two years later, Palladius  transferred to Scotland. Patrick, having adopted that Christian name  earlier, was then appointed as second bishop to Ireland.

Patrick was quite successful at  winning converts. And this fact upset the Celtic Druids. Patrick was  arrested several times, but escaped each time. He traveled throughout  Ireland, establishing monasteries across the country. He also set up  schools and churches which would aid him in his conversion of the Irish  country to Christianity.

His mission in Ireland lasted for  thirty years. After that time, Patrick retired to County Down. He died  on March 17 in AD 461. That day has been commemorated as St. Patrick's  Day ever since. Much Irish folklore surrounds St. Patrick's Day. Not  much of it is actually substantiated.

Some of this lore includes the belief that Patrick raised people from the dead. He also is said to have given a sermon from a hilltop that drove all the snakes from Ireland. Though  originally a Catholic holy day, St. Patrick's Day has evolved into more  of a secular holiday.

One traditional icon of the day is  the shamrock. And this stems from a more bona fide Irish tale that tells how Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Trinity. He  used it in his sermons to represent how the Father, the Son, and the  Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity. His followers adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock on his feast day.  The St. Patrick's Day custom came to America in 1737. That was the first year St. Patrick's Day was publicly celebrated in this country, in  Boston.

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