St. Patrick’s Day – in the U.S. it is an excuse to drink green beer and pinch people who aren’t wearing green. It’s an excuse to wear green top hats, speak in a shoddy fake Irish accent, and generally act a fool. But what is the holiday really about? Who is the man we honor on March 17th every year?
Who The Heck Was St. Patrick?
First off, he was BRITISH. What? Born to wealthy folks who weren’t particularly religious, Patrick (born Magonus Sucatus or Maewyn Succat) was kidnapped at sixteen by Irish raiders who came to, well, raid his family’s estate. They spirited him off to Ireland, where he lived six years as a prisoner, herding sheep and pretty lonely and scared. He turned to God, and since his Dad had been a deacon in a Christian church, the Christian God was the one he was most familiar with. He escaped Ireland, but his spiritual intuition told him to go back to spread Christianity among a polytheistic Ireland.
He did his religious studies in Gaul (France/Luxembourg/Belgium now) and got himself ordained, and then went back to Ireland to be a leader to the people who were already Christians, and to covert those who were not. So, he didn’t really BRING Christianity to Ireland, he just spread it around.
One way he did that was to incorporate traditional symbols and rituals of the Irish religion into his teachings. He used bonfires at Easter since the Irish used fire to worship, and he incorporated their religious symbol, the sun, into the Christian symbol of the Cross, creating the Celtic cross.
There have never been snakes in Ireland, so St. Patrick couldn’t have very well driven them out. Snakes are, in some religions, a symbol of evil, so in bringing Christianity to a pagan country, it’s likely the snake story is an analogy, rather than fact.