NEW YORK Millions around the world are wearing green to celebrate St. Patrick's Day today with some of the biggest celebrations happening in the United States.
In New York alone, two million spectators are expected at the nation's oldest and largest St. Patrick's Day parade along Fifth Avenue. The 245th annual holiday celebration in the Big Apple began with the Solemn Pontifical Mass at Saint Patrick's Cathedral this morning and continued with floats and marching bands at 11:00 a.m. a tradition that dates back to 1766.
The festivities are all in honor of the patron saint of Ireland whose Christian faith grew during his captivity. Patrick grew up in a Christian home in Britain toward the end of the fourth century, but was kidnapped by Irish Pirates and taken to the Emerald Isle at the age of 16. He became a slave to a chieftain, but rather than living as a victim, records of his writings reveal a love and fear toward God that grew even when enslaved.
"And before daybreak I use to be roused to prayer, in snow, in frost, in rain. And I felt no hurt, nor was there any sluggishness in me - as I now see because the spirit was then fervent within me," he stated in "The Confession."
He managed to escape six years later and pursued a vision he received from which he transformed Ireland into a seedbed of Christianity through evangelism and missionary work.
Remembering the legacy of Patrick, Deacon Keith A. Fournier of Catholic Way said, "On this day, when the entire world pauses to remember Patrick's life and his legacy, to rightly celebrate a full and meaningful life - and to honor to a beautiful country and people who have sent missionaries to the rest of the world to carry Patrick's work forward through the ages, let us truly honor his memory by choosing to walk in his way," according to CBN.
This year's holiday falls on a Friday and at least a third of the nation's Catholic dioceses, including the Archdioceses of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn, are making exceptions to let parishioners eat meat today.
Colonial New York City hosted the first official St. Patrick's Day parade in 1762, when Irish immigrants in the British colonial army marched down city streets. In subsequent years Irish fraternal organizations also held processions to St. Patrick's Cathedral. The various groups merged sometime around 1850 to form a single, grand parade.