Every year, on March 17, people around the world practice a ritual of some sort to commemorate St. Patrick’s Day. Yes, it is a fun holiday generally involving green clothing, green beer, shamrocks and parades. But what is the true history behind the holiday? Who, exactly, was this St. Patrick, anyway?
St. Patrick’s life is actually remains much of a mystery, however, it is known that he was born to wealthy parents in Britain at the end of the fourth century. The story goes that as a child, pirates kidnapped him and sold him into slavery in Ireland. After six years of captivity, he dreamed that God dictated him to escape with a getaway ship.
Returning to Briton and then moving on to France, he joined a monastery, spending twelve years in training. As a bishop, he dreamed of being called back to Ireland teach the people about God. With the Pope’s blessings, he returned to Ireland, converting the mostly Pagan Gaelic Irish to Christianity. Unhappy Celtic Druids arrested him several times, but he always escaped. For 20 years, he was successful in setting up monasteries, churches and schools across the country. It is said that he died on March 17, 461 AD.
The celebration of St. Patrick’s Day is a Christian tradition that takes place during Lent. The first parade took place not in Ireland, but in New York City in 1762, allowing Irish soldiers serving in the English military to reconnect with their Irish roots. Irish patriotism continued to flourish In America, and in 1848, several Irish Aid societies united to form one huge New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which remains the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the USA. Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in countries all around the world.
Modern day celebrations typically involve drinking stout beer (that is often colored green). An interesting fact is that, until the 1970’s, Irish law mandated that pubs close for this religious holiday. In 1995, Ireland’s government campaigned to encourage tourism to the country for the celebrations, and in recent years, more than one-million people from around the world have traveled to Dublin to take part in the days- long celebration.
St. Patrick’s Day is associated with many symbols. Probably the most evident is the shamrock, a clover-like green plant that grows in natural abundance in Ireland. The plant itself represents spring, nature and the change of seasons. The plant’s three leaves represent the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). The shamrock is also responsible for the tradition of the “wearing of the green”, as many people pinned one on their clothing.
Four leaf clovers are much less common than three-leafed shamrocks, and if you find one, you are promised good luck.
Snakes Folklore tells that St. Patrick once stood on a hilltop and banished all the snakes from Ireland. Fact is that Ireland was never home to snakes, and the act actually symbolized the eradication of the Pagan ideology of Ireland.
Leprechauns are mythical little green people with nasty personalities. Their purpose is supposedly to mend the shoes of Irish fairies. They are paid in gold coins, which they collect in a pot-thus the “pot of gold”.
There are many, many Irish blessings, but I leave you with this one. (Author unknown)
May your blessings outnumber
The Shamrocks that grow.
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.