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Despite Parade Cancellations, Christians Worldwide Remember the Life of Saint Patrick

St. Patrick

March 17, St. Patrick's Day, is usually filled with parades and celebrations. But for the first time in 258 years, the annual New York St. Patrick's Day Parade has been canceled due to concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 virus. 

Although St. Patrick's Day has become widely secularized over the centuries, it originally began as a holy day.

"The origin of Saint Patrick's day would be the death day of the saint. The day of his entry into heaven, his feast day, the festival of that," said Dr. Charles Doherty of University College Dublin.

Feast days were annual celebrations in which Christians remembered their chosen saints.

"It is the liturgical veneration of the death of that person, the memory of what he did," Doherty said. "It's associated with the places that he visited [or] founded, allegedly or otherwise."

Patrick's Feast Day Keeps His Memory Alive

Patrick's feast day was first observed locally by his own followers in Ireland. 

"They kept his memory alive. They're the people who preserved his writings. And the one thing any ancient group of Christians [does] about their leader, is they preserve the day of death," explained Thomas O'Loughlin, author of Discovering Saint Patrick. "And we can be pretty sure that he died on the 17th of March. And they would have kept that loyally."

By the seventh century, Patrick's story had been embellished by several biographers, and he was made a saint by popular devotion.

You can get a copy of CBN's new movie "I Am Patrick" on DVD for a gift of $15 or more HERE on CBN.com, OR by texting Patrick to 71777 to get the DVD.

Patrick First Celebrated by the Latin Church

"Once Patrick is transformed, that feast day becomes not just the feast day of his own little group, but becomes the feast day throughout the whole of Ireland and within a couple of generations he's being celebrated right across the Latin Church," O'Loughlin said.
In 1631, Pope Urban VIII added the feast day to the official calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. After that, March 17 also became a civic occasion that was celebrated with shamrocks, green clothing, and local fairs.

"The parades we see today are not actually something that started in Ireland, but rather something that started in the US," said Dr. Elizabeth Dawson, a lecturer at Queen's University Belfast.

St. Patrick's Day Parades First Held in the US, Not Ireland

The earliest recorded Saint Patrick's Day parade was in New York in 1766 – 10 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Some scholars believe that these celebrations of Irish identity were encouraged by the British Army, which was looking to recruit Irish-Americans.

"It becomes a big holiday when suddenly markers of distinctive Irish identity become necessary. And Patrick is a suitable marker because he's a saint, it brings in religion, it's not political, and so it's a suitable day for Irish in America to have an identity day," O'Loughlin said.
All Cultures Adopt Patrick

Over the next two centuries, Saint Patrick's Day evolved into a holiday celebrated by people of all cultures.

"People like things, places, and dates which will foster memory. Having days we hold in common allows us to, in a very nice and safe way, say 'I'm different to you; and yet we can have a party and you and I are somehow linked together,'" O'Loughlin observed.

 Although the New York St. Patrick's Day parade was canceled this year, it's drawn up to two million people in the past.

"We stand on the shoulders of all of those who came before us, and our responsibility is to maintain and improve where we can. But we also have to remain faithful to our mission which is celebrating Irish faith, heritage, and culture," said Sean Lane, NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade Chairman.

"It's important to realize as well that Saint Patrick himself would remind us of what his story is really about the importance of Christian faith and how the importance of national identity is transcended in the universal family of the church," said Fr. Billy Swan, author of The Experience of God in the Writings of Saint Patrick.

You can get a copy of CBN's new movie "I Am Patrick" on DVD for a gift of $15 or more HERE on CBN.com, OR by texting Patrick to 71777 to get the DVD.

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