St. Patrick Wasn't Irish, So What Was He?
Let's debunk some myths surrounding the patron saint of Ireland.
St. Patrick’s Day is a time to get jiggy wearing green, displaying shamrocks, drinking green beer and eating corned beef and cabbage.
But just who is this Saint Patrick, and why do we celebrate his feast day?
He was born in Wales to wealthy parents about 385 AD, and his given name was Maewyn. And although his father was a Christian deacon, there is no evidence to suggest that Maewyn came from a particularly religious family.
He considered himself a pagan until the age of 16, when he was kidnapped by a group of Irish raiders who attacked his family's estate. Maewyn was taken to Ireland, where he spent six years in captivity working as a shepherd during which time he became a Christian and took the name Patrick.
After escaping captivity, he studied in a monastery for 12 years. It was here that he realized his calling was to convert the pagans to Christianity. Patrick’s superiors honored his wishes to return to Ireland and appointed him as the second bishop of the country.
During his 30-year mission in Ireland, he established monasteries and set up schools and churches. Within 200 years of his arrival in Ireland, Patrick had “Christianized” the entire country.
He died on March 17 461 AD, and that day has been commemorated as St. Patrick's Day ever since.
On St. Patrick's Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.
In the centuries following Patrick's death, the mythology surrounding his life became ever more ingrained in the Irish culture. Among the legends is the one that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock which led to his followers adopting shamrocks as a symbol of his day.
Another story says that St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland. While it's true there are no snakes there today, there never were. There's too much cold water surrounding Ireland for snakes to emigrate from anywhere. But since snakes represent so much literary evil, their absence became a convenient allegory for the goodness he brought to the country.
The St. Patrick's Day came to America in 1737, and was first celebrated in Boston. Irish immigrants, in order to save money, substituted corned beef for the traditional bacon and cabbage dish.
The first parade held to honor St. Patrick's Day took place not in Ireland but in the United States. On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City.
Another tradition, started in 1962, is the annual dyeing of the Chicago River green. Forty pounds of vegetable dye is used to color the river for several hours on St. Patrick's Day.
So enjoy, because everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, right?
Even St. Patrick.