Remembering St. Patrick’s Day
It’s the middle of March and there is green everywhere! The streets are blocked off downtown for the parade and morning mass is predicted to have a larger-than-normal congregation. The signs are clear. Saint Patrick’s Day is here. As Celtic music is shared Irish descendants are pinching each other, but not for Saint Patrick, so what are we really celebrating and why?
There are few verified documents on Saint Patrick but some sources have written his birth name as Maewyn Succat. He was born in Great Britain around 386 A.D to a religious household. His mother was a close relative of the patron Saint Martin of Tours and his father a deacon from a Roman family of high social standing, although he would not grow up with an attention on his religious beliefs. At age 16 he was kidnapped by Irish Raiders and brought to Ireland where he was sold into slavery in Dalriada. He was sold to his master, Milchu, who was a high priest of Druidism, a Pagan sect with strong influence at that time. He saw his enslavement as a test from God and deepened his faith serving 6 years under his masters.
One night around 408 A.D, he claimed to have heard a strange voice in his dream, ensuring him that he will find a way home to Britain. He boarded a ship and after three days, he landed on the coast of France.
For 12 years he studied priesthood at a monastery in Auxerre, France, and adopted the name Patrucius, or as we know, Patrick. During his time studying, he decided his mission was to convert Pagans to Christianity in Ireland. He was ordained a deacon by the Bishop of Auxerre around 418 A.D and soon after was sent by Pope Celestine I to spread the gospel.
Saint Patrick traveled through Ireland establishing monasteries and schools. He was honorably recognized for converting much of Ireland to Christianity from Paganism. One of the most popular legends told that Saint Patrick drove out all the slithering snakes from Ireland. This is highly unlikely as it was too cold for snakes to last in Ireland after the last Ice Age. The snake story was not meant to be taken literally, however, it is better speculated that snakes referred to the Pagans which he so famously converted. Similarly, there are accounts of Saint Patrick bringing people back from the dead, but it was concluded that it once again tributed to his acts of resurrecting people from Pagan ways into the light of Christianity.
One of the most preserved tales is that he used the shamrock as an analogy of the holy trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) to explain Christianity. It is a famously known tale, however, the first images that connect Saint Patrick to the clover did not surface until about 1,200 years after his death.
Patrick worked as an educator and preacher for 30 years. He retired soon after and then died around 461 A.D. His death date and celebrated date is March 17th, and there was not a canonization process until the 12th century. He would be declared a saint by acclamation and sainthood approved by a local bishop.
Celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day traditionally consisted of a celebratory mass in the morning and a feast in the afternoon. After time passed, it was further celebrated as a secular holiday.
In 2016 the United States Census Bureau documented 32.3 million, or 10% of America’s population as Irish descent. They have a strong sense of community with a history of emigrating to the United States. Dressing in green they show support for Irish culture and pinch anyone who forgot or decided not to wear any. But it is more about the politics that they are recognizing.
The Irish rebellion in 1641 gave the Irish independence from Britain, and the color green represented that transition. As some Irish started to move into the United States, it was there that their pride flaunted.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade occurred on March 17th, 1762, when Irish soldiers from the British Army marched in New York to celebrate their Irish heritage. Parades have continued to be held throughout the country since the 1770s, with Boston and New York being some of the oldest civilian parades in the world.
Most Irish immigrants in the United States were of the protestant middle class until the mid-19th century. When the Great Potato Famine, also known as the Great Hunger hit Ireland in 1845, around 1 million Irish Catholics immigrated to America for a better opportunity and to escape the famine. It was around this time that the pinching for not wearing green in support of Irish independence had spread. The tradition remained, and Irish American’s have a reason to emphasize their support knowing their ancestors largely made it possible for them to be where they are now.
Saint Patrick’s Day is now more mainstream, recognized by most American’s as a national holiday in support of Irish and immigrant culture. It drives in between 5 and 6 billion dollars in business through parades, decorations, and festive treats. Where is the place where celebrators go all out? New York City. With 100,000 parade members and 2 million spectators, it is the world’s largest and oldest parade since its beginning in 1762. This year, 2021, marks the 260th St. Patrick’s Day parade. At the center of the celebration, get ready to drown the shamrock, indulge in the Irish soda bread, look for four-leaf clovers, and with regards to COVID-19, safely kissing someone who is Irish. Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Prepare for this St. Patrick’s day by remembering the rich history and watch real luck reveal itself!