A friend of mine, who is new to the faith, but aware that many holidays are pagan, recently asked, “Should Christians celebrate St. Patrick’s day?” My first inclination was to reply, “Well, how do you celebrate.”
If I am honest, the last time I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day was as a young adult. When I retired from the bar/club scene in my later 20’s I didn’t pay much attention to the date unless it was for some good Cornbeef and Cabbage. I guess once I stopped worrying about getting “pinched” for not wearing green, or celebrating in a way that I can’t imagine any SAINT would commemorate the day, it didn’t matter much to me anymore.
The next question I ask is, “What is its origin?” So, the researcher in me had to start studying the origin of the holiday and I thought it would be interesting enough for others who might be curious.
The Origin of the True St. Patrick
When it comes to Saint Patrick, I found that the true story is more exciting than any legend or myth that people have conjured up over the years.
Patrick was born in 385 in Roman Britannia in the modern-day town of Dumbarton, Scotland. In his autobiography, Confession, with these opening lines:
“My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae.'”
At sixteen he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken 200 miles inland where he was a shepherd and farm laborer. Six years later Patrick had a dream or vivid vision (from God) that showed him the escape route. Empowered by the vision Patrick made his big break back the 200 miles to the shoreline. When he arrived at the docks, a British ship was waiting, he jumped on and headed home.
Before captivity, Patrick’s Christian faith didn’t mean much to him. But things changed when during his captivity as a slave. He attributes his survival to God and it led Him into the arms of His savior. When Patrick arrived in the homeland, he committed to his faith wholeheartedly. He became a priest and soon felt a tremendous burden for the people that had kidnapped him. So he returned to Ireland with a mission Patrick faced danger and even threats of his life. He took to carrying a dagger. Yet, despite these setbacks, Patrick persisted in ministry, despite the enemy’s attacks because He knew God was calling Him for such a time as this.
He planted churches and eventually led the king to the Lord and baptized him. From there, many Irish followed the path to Jesus. With this “movement”, he rid Ireland of lawlessness as well as cultural and civil barbarianism by bringing not only Christianity to Ireland but changing the ethical outlook of civilization…
St. Patrick the Great Revivalist
Wait, why have I never heard about this before? The more I researched the more incredible this man sounded. Humble to call himself a sinner, but others called him a Saint. Patrick would come to be known as the “Apostle of Resurrection” or “Ireland’s Great Revivalist”. It has been reported that He performed countless miracles. And as many as 39 dead were raised to LIFE! The more I studied this man, the more exciting it got.
It’s said that in one of the resurrections, there was a prince who was baptized. Later he expressed unbelief about the doctrine of Resurrection. After St. Patrick quoted various texts from the Scriptures, the prince said that if Patrick would raise his grandfather, (by then buried about 6 months) he would believe in that Resurrection which Patrick preached. Patrick signed the tomb of the grandfather with his staff, had it opened, and prayed. He described the torments that went on in Hell and seeing he had a second chance at life, he was baptized. He received the Eucharist, retired again to his former sepulcher, and “slept in the Lord.” After witnessing this miracle none doubted the truth of the Resurrection.”
St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 and so a significant monument stands atop the hill overlooking the town. Panels depicting scenes from Patrick’s life surround the monument’s base.
The challenge with Patrick is sifting through the legends. But, isn’t it just like the devil to want to take something that is good and twist it for evil? Or at least plant doubt in your mind in some way so that these stories would become questionable in their validity?
Sifting Through The Legend of Saint Patrick
Take the shamrock for instance. Some biographers claim definitively that Patrick used the shamrock as an object lesson to teach pagans about the Trinity, that God is one in essence and three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no evidence, however, for such a claim.
Some say that Patrick stood on an Irish hillside and delivered a sermon that drove the snakes into the sea. While it’s true that the island is snake-free, there is no evidence that it happened at that moment, as water has surrounded Ireland since the end of the last glacial period, preventing snakes from slithering over. Scholars believe the snake story s an allegory for St. Patrick’s eradication of pagan ideology.
Saint Patrick’s Day is Not
Today, St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday known for parades, shamrocks, and all things Irish. From leprechauns to the color green, how did these symbols we associate with St. Patrick’s Day come to be?
One icon of the Irish holiday is the Leprechaun. The original Irish name for these figures of folklore is “lobaircin,” meaning “small-bodied fellow.” Belief in leprechauns is rooted in the Celtic belief in fairies and tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. In these stories, leprechauns were cranky souls responsible for mending the shoes of the fairies. They are known for the trickery that they use to protect their much-fabled treasure. What does this have to do with St. Patrick, you ask? Nothing! They have their holiday (March 13th) but somehow the time was extended to distract from this day to celebrate what St. Patrick did for the church.
The strangest (in my opinion) St. Patrick’s “tradition” is the green beer and pub crawls. Come to find out that partying with friends, singing along to Irish mus, ic and getting completely intoxicated on St. Patty’s Day has absolutely nothing to do with the religious holidayIt’s been not even an Irish tradition. But worse, it came from a coroner who was celebrating St. Patrick’s day at a social club in New York in 1914. He put a poisonous pill with an iron powder solution. It was used to whiten clothes, but he thought it would be fun to turn beer green by dropping this pill Back in the days they called beer that was not fermented long enough “green beer” because it caused stomach issues. No idea, why anyone thought this was a good idea, but it just goes to show us that people will follow any tradition, even if it leads them off a cliff.
The moral of the story is…
Yes, celebrate revival! St. Patrick was a brave man of God, serving Him with His whole heart. He initiated the start of a mighty movement of an entire country, that spread like wildfire and changes the lives of generations to come. Honor him as just that. No pub crawls green beer, leprechauns, and pots of gold are necessary.