Who was Saint Patrick and What is the History of St. Patrick's Day?
A brief history of the holiday includes paganism, Christianity and 'snakes'.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you! Today is the day that the Irish wait for every year – and the day that the non-Irish become Irish for 24 hours.
Or, if you’re like me with an Irish last name but hardly any Irish in you, it’s the day you politely tell people that you aren’t wicked excited that it’s St. Patrick’s Day. No offense to those of you who are Irish through and through, or wish you were Irish on March 17.
So what is St. Patrick’s Day all about anyway and why do we celebrate it? Well, according to various sources on the internet, St. Patrick was born in Wales around AD 385. Before becoming St. Patrick he answered to the name Maewyn and, until turning 16, he identified himself as a pagan (no real shocker there, as most people back in those days were pagan). It wasn’t until he was kidnapped by Irish marauders and held as a slave for six years that he turned to God.
After his escape from slavery he went to Gaul and studied in the monastery for 12 years. It was during this time that he came to believe that he must convert pagans to Christianity. For 30 years he traveled through Ireland establishing monasteries and successfully converting pagans to Christianity before dying on March 17 in AD 461.
As I’ve mentioned before, many of our current holidays have their origins in paganism. St. Patrick’s Day is no different, albeit this holiday came about because a former pagan turned to Christianity and in turn worked to convert the people of Ireland to the Church.
There is much folklore about St. Patrick and what he did as he traveled around Ireland converting the pagans. One of these is that he drove the snakes from Ireland. That should not be taken literally, for “snakes” refers to the pagans that he converted to Christianity. Snakes, for those who may not be aware, are symbolic for pagans and if you see someone wearing a snake pin or other piece of snake jewelry on March 17 chances are they are pagan.
He also used the three-leaved clover in his travels as a tool to teach the Irish about the Trinity. Each of the three clover leaves, he would explain, represented the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The shamrock was adopted as a symbol of St. Patrick’s Day as a result. Of course there are other symbols of this day including the leprechaun and wearing green, for example.
And did you know that up until 1737, St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t celebrated in the United States? That is until our fair city held the first public celebration of St. Patrick. Yup, that’s right, Boston brought St. Patrick’s Day to America. Of course these days most every major city – and some smaller ones – celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with parades and/or other events.
So on this St. Patrick’s Day (and during the weekend festivities) when you’re out and about wearing your “Kiss Me I’m Irish” t-shirt and drinking green beer may the luck of the Irish be with you. Please remember to be safe out there and make sure that if you’re drinking you have a designated driver to get you home.