Many people in America mistakenly believe St. Patrick’s Day merely consists of leprechauns and four leaf clovers. The average American hardly ever stops to think about what we are really celebrating every year and why we are celebrating it. Instead of letting this holiday pass by without appreciating its significance, I would like to share some of St. Patrick’s Day’s history.
Surprisingly, St. Patrick was born in Britain, not Ireland. However, he was captured by Irish pagans as a teenager and taken to Ireland where he was enslaved for six years. Even though he was enslaved, he grew to enjoy the Irish culture, and after he escaped and returned home, he still wanted to return to Ireland.
In Ireland, St. Patrick joined the Church of Auxerre in Gaul and studied to be a priest, then a Pope, and then an apostle. An apostle was one of Jesus’s 12 disciples and was trained to spread the word of Christianity. Christianity was unfamiliar and feared in Ireland, but St. Patrick converted thousands of people and led them to church. He surprisingly accomplished all of this in less than 30 years.
After a fulfilling life, he died on March 17, 461 A.D. During the end of his life, he wrote Confessions in which he told all about his life and his missions. Today, he is known as the patron saint of Ireland, and therefore in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated as a very religious holiday.
Shamrocks, which are three-leaf clovers, and four-leaf clovers, are more than just symbols of good luck. The three leaves represent the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit), and a fourth leaf represents God’s Grace. During the Middle Ages in Ireland, four-leaf clovers were thought to have magical protection powers that could ward off bad luck. Also, Celtic priests believed that when they possessed a three-leaf clover, they were able to see evil spirits approaching them. Ireland has the most four-leaf clovers in the world, which is how the saying, “the luck of the Irish” evolved. (http://www.fourleafclover.com/vshop/facts_about_4-leaf_clovers)
Another tradition is wearing the color green on St. Patrick’s Day. The original color for this holiday was blue, but green caught on and was worn as a tradition in the 17th century. The color green is worn because it mimics the green of the shamrock.
In America, a common way adults celebrate St. Patrick’s Day is by drinking excessive amounts of beer. Although beer is an important part of Irish culture, the Irish do more than just drink during the holidays. St. Patrick’s Day is a holy holiday, so the Irish do not drink more than usual.
Instead, there is a weeklong tradition of different festivities, including parades and huge family meals everywhere in Ireland. One of the first Saint Patrick’s Day festivals in Dublin, Ireland was five days long and more than one million people attended the event. The activities included concerts, theatre performances and fireworks. Irish author, Bridget Haggerty from http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/ACalend/StPatsDay.html said, “St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with elaborate parades; families tuck into the traditional dinner of corned beef and cabbage (traditional everywhere except Ireland, that is); and, in the pubs, the green beer flows swifter than the River Shannon.”
Whether you are Irish or not, there are many different ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Knowing the true history of this religious holiday, we can celebrate respectfully and traditionally!
By MACKENZIE HILL