Today is St. Patrick’s Day which is celebrated in much of the world. The day celebrates the life of the patron saint of Ireland as well as the Irish culture itself. Three leaf clovers (shamrocks), the color green, drinking Irish whiskey or beer, parades, and leprechauns are just some aspects of this celebrated day. St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries around the world than any other national festival. That is quite an impressive statistic for such a small sized country off the coast of Britain.
The interesting thing is that Maewyn Succat (St Patrick’s actual name) is not even Irish himself. He was born in Britain and as a young man was captured by Irish raiders who took him back to Ireland where he was held for almost six years. While there, he committed his life to Christ, escaped home to Britain, and then felt called back to Ireland to serve the people who had originally enslaved him.
Most of what is known about Saint Patrick is taken from legend – such as the story of him driving out all of the snakes in the country. What is known is that he did return to Ireland, and through his work, a movement was started that saw much of the island converting to Christianity. The celebration, which is the marking of the date of his death in 460AD, is full of interesting culture and traditions:
- Shamrocks (3 leaf clovers) are said to be how St. Patrick explained how God could be three-in-one to the people of Ireland.
- The drinking of alcohol comes from the fact that the celebration was a day in which Catholics could be exempt from lent and enjoy themselves for one day during the 40 days of sacrifice.
- Believe it or not, green is not actually the original color for celebrating this day, it is blue. Historians believe this changed in the 1700’s when Ireland became known as the “Emerald Island.” It may also be attributed to the inclusion of shamrocks and leprechauns as part of this day.
- A tradition of the day is that if you are not wearing green other people can pinch you. This actually has nothing to do with St. Patrick at all and was started in the U.S. as part of the tradition (if you are not wearing green leprechauns can see you).
- Leprechauns also have nothing to do with the original story or aspects of Saint Patrick and his life. Leprechauns are a fairy-like creature that comes out of the druid history of the Irish culture and has become a symbol of Ireland.
Like many other holidays, much of the modern day celebration of St. Patrick’s Day has little or nothing to do with the original reason for the observation of the day. The true meaning of the day has somewhat been lost. What we can take from the history of this day, however, is that a young man decided to leave his home and go serve the people of another land and by doing so changed history. At the time of his life and death, Maewyn would never have known that he would one day be celebrated around the world. So. . . you never know what can happen if you decide to serve and care more about other people than yourself.