The Mystical Legends and Folklore of St. Patrick's Day

by Monta Greenfield on March 04, 2023
The Mystical Legends and Folklore of St. Patricks Day

St. Patrick's Day is a holiday that is steeped in Irish culture and tradition. While many people associate the holiday with the Christian missionary St. Patrick himself, leprechauns and green beer, there is a rich history and folklore behind the celebrations. 

I'm more interested in the magic surrounding this popular holiday so let's dive into the folklore of the Celtic and pagan origins of St. Patrick's Day, as well as some of the traditions and legends associated with it.

St. Patrick's Day is a widely celebrated holiday that honors St. Patrick, the patron saint* of Ireland. St. Patrick is credited with converting the Irish people to Christianity in the 5th century, using traditional Irish symbols such as the shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. St. Patrick's success in spreading Christianity throughout Ireland is widely credited with helping to unify the country, which had previously been divided into numerous pagan tribes. His work also laid the foundation for the development of Irish culture and literature, which flourished during the medieval period.

Today, this secular holiday is widely associated with Irish culture, many may be surprised to learn that there are also Celtic origins and many of the traditions and beliefs associated with the holiday have roots in Pagan* mythology.

The Celtic Origins of St. Patrick's Day

 Celtic Cross


The Celtic people of Ireland celebrated the spring equinox, which falls around the same time as St. Patrick's Day, as a time of renewal and rebirth. This celebration was known as "Eostre", which is where the word "Easter" comes from. The Celts believed that the equinox marked a time when the powers of darkness were overcome by the powers of light, and they celebrated with feasting, dancing, and other festivities.

When Christianity arrived in Ireland in the 5th century via St. Patrick, it was natural for the new religion to incorporate some of the existing Celtic traditions into its celebrations. By using the shamrock, a three-leaf clover, to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the Irish people it quickly became a symbol of St. Patrick and of Ireland itself.

Here are some other Celtic traditions associated with St. Patrick's Day:

  1. Wearing Green: The tradition of wearing green on St. Patrick's Day is said to have originated from an ancient Celtic belief in the power of the color green to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. Today, wearing green is a popular way to show pride in Irish heritage and is a hallmark of St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

  2. Parades: The first St. Patrick's Day parade was actually held in New York City in 1762, but the tradition has since spread to Ireland and other parts of the world. Parades often feature marching bands, floats, and dancers, and are a way to celebrate Irish culture and history.

  3. Irish Music and Dancing: Music and dancing are a big part of Irish culture, and St. Patrick's Day is no exception. Traditional Irish music is often played at St. Patrick's Day celebrations, and people may gather to dance traditional jigs and reels.

  4. Feast of St. Patrick: In Ireland, St. Patrick's Day is a national holiday, and many people attend church services or participate in other religious ceremonies.

By celebrating these traditions, we can honor the rich cultural heritage of Ireland and the enduring legacy of St. Patrick.


The Pagan Folklore of St. Patrick's Day

Pagan Folklore


St. Patrick's Day has its roots in ancient pagan traditions, and there are many pagan folklores associated with the holiday. One of the most famous is the legend that St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. While there is no evidence that snakes ever existed in Ireland, the story may be a metaphor for the Christianization of Ireland and the conversion of its pagan population.

Here are a few more examples:

  1. Leprechauns: Leprechauns are mischievous fairy-like creatures that are often associated with St. Patrick's Day. According to legend, if you catch a leprechaun, he will grant you three wishes. Leprechauns are also known for their love of gold and their tendency to play pranks on humans.

  2. The Sidhe: The Sidhe are supernatural beings from Celtic mythology who are said to live in ancient mounds and fairy rings. Some people believe that the Sidhe are especially active on St. Patrick's Day and may leave offerings for them in order to gain their favor.

  3. The Green Man: The Green Man is a pagan symbol of rebirth and renewal that is often associated with the spring equinox, which falls around the same time as St. Patrick's Day. The Green Man is often depicted as a figure with leaves or branches growing out of his mouth or hair.


Incorporating Pagan Traditions into Modern Celebration

Pagan Celebration


Many of these pagan traditions associated with St. Patrick's Day have been incorporated into modern celebrations, often in subtle ways. These celebrations often emphasize the holiday's pagan roots and may include:

  1. Nature walks and outdoor rituals - Many modern pagans see St. Patrick's Day as a celebration of the arrival of spring and the rebirth of nature. As such, they may choose to mark the holiday with a nature walk or outdoor ritual, in which they honor the changing of the seasons and the awakening of the natural world.
  2. Lighting bonfires - Bonfires have long been associated with pagan celebrations, and some modern pagans choose to celebrate by lighting a fire and performing a ritual or meditation around it. This can be a way to honor the holiday's connection to the spring equinox and the renewal of life.
  3. Incorporating traditional Irish symbols and mythology - This may include using the shamrock as a symbol of good luck or incorporating figures from Celtic mythology, such as the goddess Brigid or the fairies known as the Sidhe.
  4. Holding feasts and shared meals - Many pagan celebrations involve shared meals or potlucks, and St. Patrick's Day is no exception. Some modern pagans choose to celebrate the holiday with a feast or communal meal, which can be a way to honor the value of community and the sharing of resources.
  5. Creating altars or shrines - Altars or shrines are common in many pagan traditions, and some modern pagans choose to create an altar or shrine as part of their celebration. This can include items such as candles, flowers, or symbols of Irish heritage or mythology.

St. Patrick's Day is a holiday that has a deep and complex history. While it is primarily associated with Irish culture and heritage, the holiday has its roots in the pagan traditions of the Celtic people. Understanding the origins and folklore of the holiday can help us appreciate its significance and meaning, and allow us to participate in the celebrations in a more meaningful way. So, whether you're wearing green, drinking Guinness, or searching for a Leprechaun's pot of gold, take a moment to remember the rich history and traditions behind St. Patrick's Day.



*A saint who in Catholicism, Anglicanism, or Eastern Orthodoxy is regarded as the heavenly advocate of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family, or person, via Wikipedia.
*Paganism refers to a broad category of religions that are not based on the Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and often incorporate nature worship and polytheism. In Ireland, Paganism was the dominant religion before the arrival of Christianity.

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published