“Before I was humiliated I was like a stone that lies in deep mud, and he who is mighty came and in his compassion raised me up and exalted me very high and placed me on the top of the wall.” ~Saint Patrick
Most scholars believe that St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in the year 385 AD in Britain. His birth name was Maewyn Succat. At the age of sixteen he was kidnapped by an Irish chieftain during a raid, and subsequently he was sold into slavery in Ireland. During his captivity, he worked as a shepherd, herding and tending sheep. Being solitary and terrified, he turned to religion for solace; he began to have religious visions and eventually became a pious Christian. He genuinely regarded his enslavement as God’s test of his faith.
After six years of slavery, St. Patrick escaped and fled home to Britain. He conscientiously studied religion in Europe under Saint Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, for a period of twelve years to become a priest. After having a dream in which the Irish populace pleaded him to convert them to Christianity, he resolutely decided to return to Ireland. He was consecrated Bishop of Irish by Pope Celestine who sent him back to Ireland to preach the Gospel to the pagans.
He devotedly evangelized for thirty years, and baptized newly converted Christians, albeit the incessant opposition from pagan leaders. St. Patrick and his disciples succeeded in converting almost all the population of Ireland to Christianity, and he was recognized as the Apostle to the Irish. He utilized a shamrock, to illustrate the doctrine of Holy Trinity; the three leaves symbolizing the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, demonstrating how three individual units could be part of the same body. He founded more than 300 churches all over the country, and he also established monasteries and set up schools.
He wrote a text, “Confessio”, documenting his life, beliefs and ministry. He described himself as a “most humble-minded man, pouring forth a continuous paean 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.” He passed away on March 17 in AD 461, that day has been commemorated as St. Patrick’s Day ever since. His sainthood was obtained from his conversion of the Irish pagans to Christianity. Today, many Catholic churches around the world are named after St. Patrick.
St. Patrick’s Day is the greatest national holiday and a holy day as well as one of the most celebrated events in Ireland. Citizens participate in special religious services, singing and dancing, enjoying family and community gatherings, wearing shamrocks and feasting on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage. Another traditional symbol is Leprechauns, “small-bodied fellows,” who have been portrayed as fairies, making shoes (shoemakers) for other fairies. The legend is that if you catch a Leprechaun, you can coerce him to inform you where he hid his pot of gold.
In the United States, St. Patrick’s Day is, for the most part, a secular holiday. The first St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated in Boston, 1737. In fact, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade did not take place in Ireland but in New York City on March 17, 1762; the parade consisted of Irish soldiers, and it facilitated to connect them with their Irish roots and their fellow Irishmen. On St. Patrick’s Day, Americans celebrate the Irish heritage with parades, festive dinners of corned beef and cabbage, green beer, Irish folk music, and dance the Irish jig. People customarily wear shamrocks and green. Green signifies Ireland, also known as the Emerald Isle (fertile green farmlands and countless green pastures), and it also represents shamrocks.
Chicago has a unique tradition of dyeing the river green on St. Patrick’s Day since 1962. Every year, tens of thousands of people attend the celebration of St. Patrick Day in downtown Indianapolis, including the traditional, spectacular parade, greening of the downtown canal, the Shamrock run & walk, and St. Patrick’s Day tent party as well as honoring the Irish Citizen of the Year.
March is Irish-American Heritage Month, first proclaimed by Congress in 1995. St. Patrick’s Day is not only about parading, carousing, consuming corned beef and cabbage, and wearing green; it has, in fact, evolved to become a celebration of Irish heritage and culture.
Happy St. Paddy Day!