March 17, 2011 -- As we prepare to honor the patron saint of Ireland by donning green and drinking too much, it feels only fitting to pull the curtain back a bit on March 17. So without further ado, here are five things you probably didn't know about St. Patrick's Day. Eire go brach!
1. St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, was born in the year 387 at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton. Which is in Scotland. Making Ireland's patron saint ... Scottish. As a teenager, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and enslaved as a shepherd for several years. He attributed his ability to persevere to his faith in God.
2. His birth name was actually Maewyn Succat -- it wasn't until he was in the Church that it was changed to Patricius, or Patrick.
3. Green may be the national color of Ireland, but the color most associated with St. Patrick is blue. The Order of St. Patrick was established in 1783 as the senior order of chivalry in the Kingdom of Ireland. The color associated with the honor needed to differentiate it from the Order of the Garter (dark blue) and the Order of the Thistle (green). So they went with a lovely shade of sky blue.
4. Patrick used a three-leafed shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to pagan Irish, forever linking the shamrock with him and the Irish in the popular imagination. He would tie shamrocks to his robes, which is why we wear green today. (The shamrock was also important in Celtic mythology because of its three leaves -- a sacred number to the Celts.)
5. The very first St. Patrick's Day parade was held in the U.S. The Irish have been celebrating the feast of St. Patrick since the ninth century, but the first recorded parade anywhere was in Boston in 1737. The parade was not Catholic in nature, though, because the majority of Irish immigrants to the colonies were Protestant. Ireland did not have a parade of its own until 1931, in Dublin. Even today, 18 out of the 20 largest St. Patrick's Day parades are in the States -- New York's is the largest.