The Real St. Patrick Didn't Wear Green

And he probably didn't drive the snakes out of Ireland. But he did spread Christianity throughout the Emerald Isle.

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Patrick spent decades baptizing, founding churches and otherwise spreading Christianity. He may have died in his 70s, though some sources say he lived past 100.

In Ireland, March 17 became a day of religious celebration. But centuries later in the United States, it turned into more. Irish immigrants who poured into this country during the 18th and 19th centuries found a hard life, struggling in exhausting jobs and suffering discrimination.

"People started looking back romantically at the motherland," said Philip Freeman, author of "St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography" and associate professor of classics at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

Parades, enlivened with Irish music and dancing, emerged, beginning treasured traditions in cities built with Irish hands.

This year, Cleveland will celebrate its 139th St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Marilyn Madigan, 52, of Cleveland, said the "true Irish" will observe that day by first attending Mass in the morning.

"It's become such a secular holiday," said Madigan, a deputy director of the Cleveland parade. "We're glad that everybody wants to partake with us, but we do not want to forget the meaning of the day of St. Patrick."

The Rev. Rock Badgerow, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Parnell, Mich., said he has to remind the children in the parish school, "It's a day, not a season." He said that's hard to remember when St. Patrick's Day decorations appear in stores and restaurants for days or weeks, making the holy day a commercial venture.

Pam Chamberlain, 34, of Pittsburgh and of Irish descent, sees nothing to celebrate. She's a pagan, and St. Patrick's Day reminds her of Patrick's dissolution of pagan culture.

"Everybody says, `You can celebrate your Irishness,"' Chamberlain said. "I say, if you're an Irish Catholic, go right ahead."

But many embrace the holiday's more cultural trimmings.

Everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day," as everyone may join the festivities, said Thomas P. Giblin, 58, of Montclair, N.J. Giblin has helped organize the Newark, N.J., St. Patrick's Day Parade over the years, as his father did before him.

He said the holiday fosters Irish-American pride and brings attention to descendants of poor, Irish immigrants who have become leaders in business, labor and politics. "That's also cause for celebration," he said.

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