by Natalie Yuhas
St. Patrick’s Day has come and gone once again this spring. Many people, whether they are Irish or not, celebrate this holiday in America, especially in Boston. People of all ages have celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by wearing a plethora of green, decorating with shamrocks and leprechauns; attending parades in major cities, and of course, enjoying a Shamrock Shake from McDonalds. Although virtually everyone knows what St. Patrick’s Day is, very few actually know who St. Patrick is and why we celebrate him on March 17th.
Contrary to popular belief, St. Patrick was not Irish. He was born in Roman Britain and was captured by Irish pirates when he was 16 years old. They took him back to Ireland, where Patrick became a slave for six year. He worked as a shepherd and attributed this time in slavery as vital to the development of his faith. While enslaved, Patrick began to pray, which ultimately led to his strengthened relationship with God, and thus, his conversion into Christianity. After six years, a voice came to St. Patrick and told him it was almost time for him to go home and that his ship was ready. He fled and returned back to Britain where he studied Christianity. A few years later, St. Patrick had a vision that a man named Victorius handed him a letter with the heading, “The Voice of the Irish” and St. Patrick imagined the voices of the Irish calling him to walk among them. His vision convinced him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Although not always accepted, St. Patrick’s mission was to convert people in Ireland. He baptized many people and ordained priests to lead these new faith communities.
St. Patrick’s Day is commonly associated with shamrocks because St. Patrick used the shamrock as a symbol while he was teaching. He compared the Holy Trinity to the shamrock, because there are three leaves within one plant, just as the Holy Trinity is three persons within one God. At the time, shamrocks were already considered sacred in Ireland because the Irish believed their shape and color symbolized rebirth and eternal life.
Many people also commonly associate St. Patrick with snakes. The legend draws on imagery of Moses from Exodus and says that St. Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland because they attacked him during his forty day fast on a hill. In reality, however, St. Patrick could have never banished the snakes because evidence shows that there never were any snakes in Ireland after the last ice age.
We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th because that is the date commonly credited as that of his death. March 17th is also St. Patrick’s Feast Day. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a holy day of obligation.
Although he was not Irish, St. Patrick was fundamental for the development of Christianity in Ireland. St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday that celebrates both religion and the culture of Ireland. Even if you are not Irish, you can appreciate all that St. Patrick did and the legacy he left.