St. Patrick’s Day historically celebrates the Roman Catholic feast day of the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, who died on March 17, 461. Though originally it was Catholic holy day, St. Patrick’s Day in current times has evolved into more of a secular holiday. It has been adopted by many as ‘be Irish Day ‘ and it has become a holiday in celebration of the Irish and their colorful culture.
Five things you probably did not know about St. Patrick and the holiday that bears his name.
1. St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland wasn’t even Irish.
He was actually born in Roman Britain around A.D. 390 to an aristocratic Christian family. His father was a deacon in the Christian church but Patrick professed no interest in Christianity as a young boy At age 16, his life was forever changed when he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken to “Gaelic Ireland” to be a slave. Patrick spent his days in slavery shepherding over his master’s flocks and it was during this difficult six-year period in his life that he came to know God. In his autobiography entitled Declaration, Patrick states that one day God gave him a vision to flee to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him home. Patrick in faith obeyed and after making his way home aboard a pirate ship he was reunited with his family
2. St. Patrick did not actually drive the snakes out of Ireland
There are many legends that surround St. Patrick and one of the most familiar includes the claim that he banished the snakes from Ireland. While it is true that no snakes exist on the island today, they never did. Icy ocean waters—much too cold to allow snakes to migrate from Britain or anywhere else, surround Ireland. Snakes are found in deserts, grasslands, forests and mountains virtually everywhere in the world. Everywhere, that is, except New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, Antarctica and, of course, Ireland.
The myth was written about St. Patrick to give a common explanation of the “no snakes in the land” phenomenon. Snakes represent “the devil” and “evil” in the Bible and other forms of literature so when Patrick drives the snakes out of Ireland, it is symbolically saying he drove the old, evil, pagan ways out of Ireland and brought in a new age.
3. St. Patrick’s Day as we know it was really a holiday
“made in America”!
It was not until the 1970s that St Patrick’s Day even caught on in Ireland as a popular holiday. St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland was always a minor religious holiday. A priest would acknowledge the feast day, and families would celebrate with a big meal, but that was about it. It is because of this history of the holiday that it is universally realized that basically Irish-Americans re-invented St. Patrick’s Day in America and it became a highly popularized secular holiday.
Eighteenth-century Irish soldiers fighting with the British in the U.S. Revolutionary War held the first St. Patrick’s Day parades. Some soldiers, for example, marched through New York City in 1762 to reconnect with their Irish roots. Other parades followed in the years and decades after, including well-known celebrations in Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, primarily in flourishing Irish immigrant communities. St. Patrick’s Day celebrations became a way to honor the saint but also to confirm the Irish ethnic identity and to create bonds of solidarity with other American ethnic groups.
4. St. Patrick would not have approved of the holiday bearing his
name becoming popularly celebrated by drinking and partying.
This is because of the fact that he spent the majority of his life as a priest who lived his life in “holy” consecration to God.
After St. Patrick’s conversion as a young man and his miraculous redemption from slavery, he felt the “call of God” on his life and responded by receiving priestly training in a monastery in France. After many years he received his ordination as a priest and then returned to Ireland because by his own confession he received a divine call from God to do so.
Patrick returned to Ireland with one aim to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. The Declaration says that he spent many years evangelizing and converted “thousands” to the Christian faith. He was first and foremost a “holy” man and followed all the dictates of the Catholic Church to the letter.
The feast day in his honor was placed on the universal liturgical calendaar in the Catholic Church in the early 1600s and Saint Patrick’s Day then became a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics throughout Ireland and the rest of the world. On Sundays and all other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass and they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder worship that is to be rendered to God. It is therefore doubtful that St. Patrick would have approved of many of the “main stays” of celebration such as the guzzling of green beer and pub hopping that has become widely associated with his holiday.
5. St. Patrick deserves to be recognized for his outstanding
St. Patrick was a highly adept missionary and he was very successful at winning pagan converts. It is also historically accepted that he made important converts among the royal an aristocratic families of the time. Both of these facts deeply upset the Celtic Druids who held sought to control Ireland at the time and it is known that Patrick was arrested several times. Each time however, although many times he was beaten and scourged he would manage to successfully escape with God’s help.
For 20 years he traveled throughout Ireland, establishing monasteries schools and churches, which would in turn aid him in his goal of the conversion of the Irish people. He successfully developed a native clergy and fostered the growth of monasticism throughout Ireland. There are many Christian legends associated with St Patrick and among them it is predominantly believed that he used the three-leaf shamrock to explain the concept of the Trinity to his pagan audiences. We will never know with certainty if this is true, but it certainly fits the character of this beloved Christian man.