St. Patrick's Day is celebrated by the Irish and Irish at Heart in
cities and towns alike with parades, "wearing of the green," music
and songs, Irish food and drink. It is a day to celebrate all
things Irish whether you are or are not.
St. Patrick's Day wouldn't exist if not for the man himself! But
how much do you know about him? Did you know that he spent six years of
slavery in Ireland until he escaped and undertook religious training abroad?
Many folks ask the question 'Why is the Shamrock the National Flower of Ireland?'
The reason is that St. Patrick used it to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans.
Saint Patrick is believed to have been born in the late fourth century, and is
often confused with Palladius, a bishop who was sent by Pope Celestine in 431 to
be the first bishop to the Irish believers in Christ.
Saint Patrick was the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland who is
credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. Most of what is known about him
comes from his two works, the Confessio, a spiritual autobiography, and his
Epistola, a denunciation of British mistreatment of Irish Christians. Saint
Patrick described himself as a "most humble-minded man, pouring forth a continuous
song of thanks to his Maker for having chosen him as the instrument whereby
multitudes who had worshipped idols and unclean things had become the people of God."
St. Patrick is most known for driving the snakes from Ireland. It is true
there are no snakes in Ireland, but there probably never have been - the island
was separated from the rest of the continent at the end of the Ice Age. As in many
old pagan religions, serpent symbols were common and often worshipped. Driving the
snakes from Ireland was probably symbolic of putting an end to that pagan practice.
While not the first to bring Christianity to Ireland, it is Patrick who is said to
have encountered the Druids at Tara and abolished their pagan rites. The story holds
that he converted the warrior chiefs and princes, baptizing them and thousands of
their subjects in the "Holy Wells" that still bear this name.
There are several accounts of Saint Patrick's death. One says that Patrick died at
Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, on March 17, 460 A.D. His jawbone was preserved in a
silver shrine and was often requested in times of childbirth, epileptic fits, and
as a preservative against the "evil eye." Another account says that St. Patrick
ended his days at Glastonbury, England and was buried there. The Chapel of St. Patrick
still exists as part of Glastonbury Abbey. Today, many Catholic places of worship all
around the world are named after St. Patrick, including cathedrals in New York City and
Saint Patrick's Day has come to be associated with everything Irish: anything green
and gold, shamrocks and luck. Most importantly, to those who celebrate its intended
meaning, St. Patrick's Day is a traditional day for spiritual renewal and offering
prayers for missionaries worldwide.
So, why is it celebrated on March 17th? One theory is that it is the day that St.
Patrick died. Since the holiday began in Ireland, it is believed that as the Irish
spread out around the world, they took with them their history and celebrations. The
biggest observance of all is, of course, in Ireland. With the exception of restaurants
and pubs, almost all businesses close on March 17th. Being a religious holiday as well,
many Irish attend mass, where March 17th is the traditional day for offering prayers
for missionaries worldwide before the serious celebrating begins.