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St. Patrick's Day: International holiday has religious origins

by Joy Kikuchi, staff writer


March is the month for celebrating women, peanuts, and artists. But it’s best known for St. Patrick’s Day! This annual event gets everyone thinking – and wearing – green, theoretically, in order to avoid pinches from others.

Saint Patrick’s Day, however, is not only about the green-wearing, beer-drinking celebrating that we have come to expect. It is essentially a religious holiday, which is how it is celebrated in Ireland, to honor that country’s patron, St. Patrick.

Patrick began his life as a pagan, born near Dumbarton in Scotland in 387. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland at the age of 14. As a sheepherder on Slemish Mountain, he spent many years alone, talking to himself and the Christian God of his youth.

One night, he heard a voice calling to him, telling him that his ship had come. Patrick walked 200 miles south to Wexford, where he found a ship returning to Britain.

After another brief time as a slave of brigands, Patrick again escaped and made his way to Europe, where he traveled for seven years before deciding to become a priest and to spread God’s message throughout the world.

Patrick studied at the Lerin Monastery, on an island off the Cote d’Azure, and after becoming a priest, he returned to Britain. One night a voice in his dream said, “We beseech thee, holy youth, to come and walk once more amongst us.” He recognized the voice as that of the Irish people, and he realized that his mission in life was to bring Christianity to Ireland.

Despite the discovery of his life’s purpose, Patrick was not sent to Ireland immediately. He first studied at the Monastery of Auxerre in France, where he was known for his dedication. The monastery decided to send a mission to Ireland during his time there, but he was refused for the first Christian mission to Ireland. Although disappointed, he waited patiently, and was sent to Ireland a couple of years later, in charge of the mission.

Patrick and 25 others arrived in Ireland in the year 432 during the winter. In spring, Patrick planned to meet with King Laoghaire, the High King of Tara. The missionaries broke the law in order to do this, by building a large fire on March 25, the traditional start of spring. No one was allowed to light a fire before the king on that day, and upon seeing it, the king and princes of Ireland raced to the spot of the rebels.

Upon meeting the king, Patrick addressed him, telling him of the group’s mission. The king was impressed by Patrick’s composure, and invited him to the Royal Court at Tara. Although they were greeted with extravagance, Patrick humbly approached the king and said, “Here I am.” The king then took his hands and kissed Patrick on the cheek.

The druids present in the throne room were threatened by Patrick’s friendship with the king, and knew that should the king convert to Christianity, they would no longer be allowed in the palace. They demanded that Patrick make snow in order to prove the validity of his religion. Patrick replied by saying that it was only God’s place to determine the weather, and then it miraculously began to snow. The snow only ceased after Patrick made the sign of the cross.

King Laoghaire was impressed by this and asked Patrick to explain his religion. His use of the shamrock to explain the Trinity is why we have come to associate that plant with Saint Patrick. The king himself did not convert, but he did allow Patrick to freely travel Ireland and spread his message. As Christianity spread throughout Ireland, it drove out the “snakes” of paganism.

When Patrick was 50 years old, he was tempted by the devil, but resisted. God sent an angel to reward Patrick, and he asked that Ireland be spared the horrors of the Day of Judgment, and that he be able to judge them himself. He also asked that Ireland remain Christian for all time.

Patrick passed away at the age of 76 on March 17, in the year 461 in Saul, Downpatrick in Ireland. The clans of Ireland fought over the right to bury him on their land, but before any blood was shed, Patrick’s friends stole him away and buried him in secret.

The feast of Saint Patrick falls every year on the anniversary of his death, March 17. Because of the great Irish diaspora in the 19th century, it has become a day celebrated in many countries. So while you are out dressed in green, remember the real reason we all become Irish for a day on March 17, and make a toast to Saint Patrick.



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