Celebrated in Ireland for more than 1,000 years, St. Patrick's Day honors the patron saint of that country, a man who lived in the 5th Century A.D. and is said to have been guided by the voice of God. After being taken from his home at age 16 by Irish raiders and then escaping imprisonment, historians say St. Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary, bent on converting the Irish to Christianity. Much of his life is a mystery and many historians believe that some of the feats he performed have been greatly exaggerated - like banishing all the snakes from Ireland - but, nonetheless, he has became a sort of Irish folk hero and religious icon all rolled into one. St. Patrick's Day marks his death in 460 A.D. 

In the United States, the celebration of St. Patrick's Day is believed to have begun in the 18th century but the tradition was not started by Americans. On March 17, 1762, Irish members of the English army paraded through New York City to celebrate their heritage and beliefs. This was the first St. Patrick's parade in America. As Irish immigration increased over the next century, Irish organizations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians began to form and, eventually, they all joined together in 1848 for one much larger New York City parade. Today, the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade is considered the oldest civilian parade in the U.S. and other major cities with large Irish populations - including Philadelphia, Chicago, and Savannah - have joined New Yorkers by organizing their own annual parades. 

In addition to parades, there are different kinds of celebrations that take place all across the country on St. Patrick's Day. In Chicago, for example, they dye the Chicago River green for several hours on March 17th. (They used to do it for several days but environmental concerns arose several years ago.) In the Philadelphia area, candy stores and markets peddle "Irish Potatoes", tiny cinnamon-coated cream cheese and coconut delights that have become a St. Patrick's tradition in and around this part of the country. 

Restaurants and bars embrace the holiday as well. It's not unusual to find a traditional Irish-American favorite - corned beef and cabbage - on St. Patrick's Day menus, usually accompanied by boiled potatoes and Irish soda bread. Bars across the country serve green beer on March 17th and no doubt have a special on pints of Guinness that evening. 

In Irish-American homes, it's likely that corned beef will be on the menu as well, and many families will celebrate by decking their house with green trimmings, including leprechauns and lucky four-leaf clovers. Some have parties for their Irish and non-Irish friends and bestow gifts on one another, including items that bear traditional claddaghs, shamrocks, and other Irish icons.

... contributed by Kate, of Kaboodle Gifts ®