Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I often write about holiday origins here. To be honest, I think I know less about St. Patrick's Day than any other holidays until now. So, who was St. Patrick?

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and one of Christianity's most widely known figures. Despite his popularity, a lot of what is known about him is false thanks to hundreds of years of exaggerated storytelling, that includes the story about him banishing the snakes from Ireland. The story was actually a metaphor for the eradication of pagan ideology from Ireland and the triumph of Christianity. Near the end of the fourth century, St. Patrick was born in Britain to wealthy parents and is believed to have died on March 17, 460 A.D.

At the age of sixteen, Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family's estate. They transported him to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity. There is some dispute as to where he was kept captive. Many believe he was taken to Mount Slemish in County Antrim, but it's more likely that he was held in County Mayo near Killala. During this time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to religion for comfort and became a devout Christian. It is also believed that at this time Patrick first began dreaming to convert the Irish to Christianity.

Patrick escaped after more than six years of being a prisoner. His writings stated that a voice which he believe to be God spoke to him in a dream telling him it was time for him to leave Ireland. In order to do this, he walked 200 miles County Mayo, where he was aid to have been kept as a prisoner, to the Irish coast. After escaping to Britain, Patrick reported that he experienced a second revelation-an angel in a dream tells him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Soon after, Patrick began religious training that lasted over fifteen years. After his ordination as a priest, he was sent to Ireland with a dual mission-to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish.

Familiar with Irish language and culture, Patrick incorporated traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For example, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish. He used the shamrock to explain the Trinity. He used it in his sermons to represent how the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity.

The first St. Patrick's Day parade took place not in Ireland but in New York City on March 17, 1762. Along with their music, the parade helped the Irish soldiers to reconnect with their roots, as well as fellow Irishmen serving in the English army. However, the first time St. Patrick's Day was publicly celebrated in America was in Boston in 1737. In modern-day Ireland, St. Patrick's Day has traditionally been a religious occasion. In fact, up until the 1970s, Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on March 17. Beginning in 1995, however, the Irish government began a national campaign to use St. Patrick's Day as an opportunity to drive tourism and showcase Ireland to the rest of the world.

I hope everyone has a wonderful St. Patrick's Day. If you're planning on drinking, please do it responsibly.

Source: The History Channel

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