In New York City, the first parade honoring the Catholic feast day of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is held by Irish soldiers serving in the British army.
Saint Patrick, who was born in the late 4th century, was one of the most successful Christian missionaries in history. Born in Britain to a Christian family of Roman citizenship, he was taken prisoner at the age of 16 by a group of Irish raiders who attacked his family’s estate. They transported him to Ireland, and he spent six years in captivity before escaping back to Britain.
Believing he had been called by God to Christianize Ireland, he joined the Catholic Church and studied for 15 years before being consecrated as the church’s second missionary to Ireland. Patrick began his mission to Ireland in 432, and by his death in 461, the island was almost entirely Christian.
Early Irish settlers to the American colonies, many of whom were indentured servants, brought the Irish tradition of celebrating St. Patrick’s feast day to America. The first recorded St. Patrick’s Day parade was held not in Ireland but in New York City in 1762, and with the dramatic increase of Irish immigrants to the United States in the mid-19th century, the March 17th celebration became widespread.
Today, across the United States, millions of Americans of Irish ancestry celebrate their cultural identity and history by enjoying St. Patrick’s Day parades and engaging in general revelry.
© Reprint without permission from History.com. Staff, 2010.