I only have a little bit of Irish blood in my genes, so growing up my family rarely celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. It is hard to truly celebrate a holiday when you are unsure of its origins. A few years ago, however, I saw a movie that changed my perspective and helped me appreciate this holiday for what it is. The movie I watched was, St. Patrick: The Irish Legend. After seeing this film and doing a home school research project with my girls, I developed a greater appreciation for St. Patrick and had a reason to celebrate his life.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in honor of St. Patrick, the beloved saint of Ireland. His given birth name was Maewyn Succat and he was born in 387 AD to wealthy British parents. Around the age of 16 he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and was sold into slavery where he worked as a shepherd for six years. During this time he learned the language, practices, and customs of his captors. At the time, Ireland was a land of pagans and Druids.
While Maewyn was in captivity, he turned to God. According to Catholic Online he wrote the following, “The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same.” “I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.”
After about six years of captivity, Maewyn had a dream in which he was told to flee Ireland and go to the coast. He walked almost 200 miles to the Irish coast where he found sailors who brought him back to Britain so that he could be reunited with his family. Again an angel appeared to him in a dream encouraging him to return to Ireland as a missionary. In obedience he prepared by studying for the priesthood where he first became ordained as a Catholic priest and later, a bishop. It was during this time he changed his name to Patrick and was sent to Ireland to bring the Gospel. He faithfully served for almost 30 years spreading Christianity throughout the country. He died on March 17, 461, hence the celebration of his life on that same day.
As you can see, March 17th was originally a day dedicated to remembering the life work of St. Patrick. Today, however, this holiday is often associated with some well-known symbols. While some of these symbols have significance others are just common practice. These symbols include:
- The color green. Oddly enough, this color is not actually associated with St. Patrick. In fact, blue was his color. Nevertheless, the color green is used to denote the color of spring, green shamrocks, and the “40 shades of green” found in Ireland.
- Shamrocks. This clover like plant is significant, because St. Patrick used shamrocks to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity to the Irish (God is really three-in-one: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit).
- Leprechauns. These little men, with their pots of gold, are nothing more than part of Irish folklore.
- The celebration of Irish heritage. Overtime, St. Patrick’s Day has become associated with the celebration of one’s Irish heritage.
- Eating Irish meals such as corned beef and cabbage. These meals are actually an American tradition or a simple Irish stew.
A few fun facts:
- The first US public celebration was held in Boston in 1737 due to the large Irish immigrant population.
- The first St. Paddies parade took place in New York City on 3/17/1762. NYC continues to host the largest parade.
In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a religious holiday where most businesses close to honor Irelands patron saint. When Irish people immigrated to the US they brought with them their holiday and traditions. That is why the festivities are often greater in highly Irish populated cities. These festivities include parades, Irish drinks and food, music, and fun activities for everyone. I was in Chicago on March 17th a few years ago and noticed that they dyed the river green! Regardless of how you choose to celebrate, I encourage you to take a moment to read up on the true origin of St. Patrick’s Day.
Do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, if so how?
Cherie Werner is passionate about encouraging women in their roles as wives and mothers. It is her desire to help women be purposeful in knowing the legacy they desire to leave behind. Her hope is to love, encourage, equip, and inspire.