Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
St. Patrick’s Day, a beloved annual Irish holiday, is quickly approaching. It’s a day for celebrating all things Irish, including Irish culture, traditions, and history. It’s also a day to recognize St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Many of us participate in the joyous celebrations, wearing green and hanging shamrock decorations, but there is also a most interesting history of the man and the origins of the cherished holiday we enjoy here in Canada and around the world on March 17th every year.
It’s believed that St. Patrick was born Maewyn Succat in late 4th century Roman Britain, not Ireland, to wealthy parents. He was kidnapped at the age of 16 by Irish raiders who then took him to Ireland where he was enslaved for six years. It’s also believed that during his time as a slave, he was a shepherd working outdoors and isolated. He then looked to his religion to find comfort in this captive state, eventually becoming a devout Christian. It’s been said that it was at this point when he began having dreams of converting the Irish to Christianity. After several years of imprisonment, Patrick escaped explaining in his writings that a voice, believing it to be God, told him it was time to leave Ireland.
After escaping, Patrick walked nearly 200 miles from County Mayo (where many believe he was imprisoned) to the Irish coast. It’s been said that after his escape, he then had a second revelation, which told him to return to Ireland as a missionary. He soon began his religious training of many years, eventually becoming a priest. Following his training, he returned to Ireland as a missionary in 432 to minister Christians already living there, as well as to convert the Irish people from a nature-based pagan religion to Christianity, which he continued to do until his death. Some accounts estimate his death taking place on March 17, 460 A.D., while other accounts state 461 A.D.
St. Patrick is credited with explaining the Holy Trinity using the shamrock, a widely recognized symbol and floral emblem of Ireland, as well as incorporating other Irish symbols and rituals into his Christian teachings, rather than trying to completely eradicate them. One such example is his use of bonfires to celebrate Easter, as the Irish people traditionally honoured their gods through fire. He also established monasteries, churches, and schools.
We refer to Patrick as St. Patrick; however, he was never actually canonized by the Catholic Church, due to the simple fact that during the first millennium, a formal canonization process in the Catholic Church did not exist. His work as a priest and efforts to advance Christianity across Ireland most likely led to his designation as St. Patrick.
The holiday of St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the globe regardless of cultural background. There are large parades and festivities to mark the occasion. According to www.history.com, the first St. Patrick’s celebration in America took place in Boston in 1737 and the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York occurred in 2002 with approximately 300,000 marchers and three million spectators. In Chicago each year, the city dyes the Chicago River green, a tradition which started back in 1962. It’s also a time for fantastic music and classic Irish dishes, such as Irish Soda Bread; Irish Brown Bread; Corned Beef and Cabbage; Champ; and Beef and Guinness Pie.
As a Canadian with very proud Irish roots, I sincerely wish you and your loved ones a very Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I also hope you wear some green for good luck and take part in some of the very exciting St. Patrick’s festivities taking place on March 17th to celebrate the people of Ireland and Irish heritage.