Little is known about Saint Patrick, the missionary and patron saint of Ireland. What is known is that he was born in Britain near the end of the fourth century and was believed to have died on March 17 around 460 A.D. Still today, the holiday commemorating his life and work is celebrated on March 17 and coincides with the Lenten season.

According to www.history.com, the Web site for the History Channel, Patrick was taken prisoner at the age of 16 by a group of Irish raiders who attacked his wealthy family’s estate. He was held captive in Ireland for six years. During his years in captivity, Patrick was often lonely and afraid and turned to religion to guide him through the trying time and quickly became a devout Christian.

At the time of his incarceration, the Irish people were mainly of the Pagan faith and it is believed that Patrick began dreaming of converting the Irish people to Christianity.

After six years, Patrick escaped and began religious training. After he was ordained, Patrick was sent to Ireland to minister to the Christians already there and to begin to process of converting the local people to Christianity.

While legends credit Patrick with driving snakes from Ireland, it is more likely that snakes never existed on the island.

According to www.st-patricks-day.com, driving the snakes from Ireland was probably symbolic of putting an end to that Pagan practices. Snakes were often worshipped throughout Paganism.

Most importantly, the Web site explains that those who celebrate its intended meaning, St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day for spiritual renewal and offering prayers for missionaries worldwide.

The holiday traveled to America with the Irish people. According to www.history.com, Irish immigrants to the United States began observing the holiday publicly in Boston in 1737 and held the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City in 1766.

Information obtained from the U.S census bureau states that more than 4.8 million immigrants from Ireland have been admitted to the U.S. for lawful permanent residence since 1820. With those Irish born Americans, the traditions have continued.

Each year on March 17, Americans feast on corned beef and cabbage, consume beer dyed green, attend Saint Patrick’s Day parades, adorn themselves in green apparel, decorate their homes with leprechauns and pots of gold and reap the benefits of the words, “kiss me, I’m Irish.”

As with many holidays, both religious and otherwise, Americans have made the celebration just another reason to eat, drink and be merry.