St. Patrick's Day: History and Background Details to Know

St. Patrick's Day is almost here, and with it come green-clad celebrations all around the U.S., Ireland and other parts of the world. The holiday is meant to celebrate Irish culture and heritage, though many festivities are criticized for a superficial approach. There is some key background information to understand if you want the full story on St. Patrick's Day.

The patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick, has his day in the sun almost every March. These days, the holiday has a lot to do with national pride and ethnic pride, with people across the world noting their Irish heritage for the occasion. Even those who do not hail from Great Britain take part, however, as social media shows.

Saint Patrick's Day first emerged in the 17th century as an official Christian feast day recognized by the Catholic Church. It is also recognized by the Anglican Communion — notably the Church of Ireland — and the Eastern Orthodox Church. It memorializes Saint Patrick ushering Christianity into Ireland.

In practical terms, the holiday tends to involve parades, festivals and parties. Irish music, dancing and attire is also a staple, though in many places that simply means wearing anything green. Of course, Irish food and drink also comes in abundance.

The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland both recognized St. Patrick's Day as a public holiday. The Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador does as well, and it is widely celebrated in the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

In the U.S., most major cities mark the occasion with a massive parade and widespread celebrations. New York City has one of the largest, with over 2 million people gathering in Manhattan for the holiday in 2017, according to Fodors. Other major parades take place in Chicago and Boston.

The holiday took over social media as well, with celebrities, politicians and journalists all wishing their followers a happy St. Patrick's Day on Sunday. Even former President Barack Obama marked the occasion early on Sunday morning, with a sweet picture and a humorous take on his own last name.

"In 2011, I visited the tiny town of Moneygall and got to walk around in the house where my great-great-great grandfather Falmouth Kearney lived his early life," he wrote. "I'll always be grateful for the warmth and generosity of the Irish people. Happy St. Patrick's Day! -Barack O’Bama."

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Meanwhile, actor Mark Ruffalo shared a GIF on Sunday, feeling some responsibility to note the holiday as the biggest green character in modern cinema.

Funny, those are the only green things I own, too," he wrote over an image of foam Hulk hands. "Happy #StPatricksDay Be safe out there, don't get smashed."