It seems weird, but on March 17 every year, the United States celebrates the day St. Patrick died, in 461 AD.
To top it off, the guy wasn’t even Irish (he was born in Roman Britain) and, his name wasn’t Patrick at birth, it was Maewyn Succat.
So, just why do we celebrate Maewyn, er, Patrick?
It’s a long, story, colored by time
Patrick was sold into slavery at the age of 16 and ended up in Ireland where he worked as a herder for the next six years. In his book, “Confessio,” he claims to have heard voices in his dreams. One of those voices told him to escape, which he successfully did and ended up back in Britain.
But, not for long. That voice returned, along with others he referred to as “The Voice of the Irish.” Apparently, they were pleading for his return to Ireland. Which he did, but not before being named a bishop in the Catholic church and an apostle to Ireland by Pope Celestine I.
In Ireland once again, he converted thousands of people and built several churches. He was known to use the shamrock when describing the Holy Trinity to his followers (but some experts debunk this).
What he was not known for, despite a long-held myth by millions, is driving snakes out of Ireland. Nor did he dye rivers green, guzzle green beer, eat corned beef and cabbage or wear dorky hats.
Anyway, Patrick worked, apparently tirelessly, for 40 years, traveling and spreading the word. The pay was lousy because he lived those 40 years in complete poverty. On March 16, in the year 461, Patrick died in Northern Ireland (in Saul, County Down).
So how did he become a saint?
The Catholic Church doesn’t name just anybody to sainthood. Sure, our friend Patrick almost single-handedly turned Ireland Catholic, but that’s not enough.
Nope, it takes miracles to become a saint – two of them in fact.
But, the process in use today to declare someone a saint didn’t begin until centuries after Patrick’s death. In truth, St. Patrick was never canonized by the Catholic church, but named “saint” by popular acclaim. In fact, he is the patron saint of Ireland.
For thousands of years after St. Patrick died, the Irish commemorated his death as a religious holiday. Apparently, they would attend mass in the morning and then party in the afternoon.
In more recent times, “you just donned your homemade St. Patrick’s Day badge or pinned a fistful of muddy shamrock to your lapel and went out to Mass to sing ‘Hail Glorious St Patrick’,” says Susan Byron, of irelands-hidden-gems.com.
“Then, if you were lucky and lived near enough to Dublin, you might be taken to The Parade to watch the marching bands and the odd float.”
So, until quite recently, the celebration remained the same. “To be honest, up until the Millennium, St. Patrick’s Day was never a big deal in Ireland,” Byron explains.
She goes on to blame ex-pats for the ridiculous March 17 celebrations in the U.S.
The silliness we witness in this country started solemnly enough among the earliest Irish settlers in America. Most of them were indentured servants (a nice way of saying “slaves”). Missing their homeland, they chose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a way to maintain a sense of their Irish roots.
In fact, that Dublin parade Byron refers to? The “traditional” St. Patrick’s Day parade actually started in the U.S. when a bunch of Irish folks living in Boston decided to stage a modest parade in 1737.
Other historians say the first parade happened nearly 30 years later, in New York City. Apparently, a group of Irish soldiers who were serving England decided to parade themselves on St. Patrick’s Day.
So, tomorrow night when you’re out partying, remember that you are celebrating the death of a guy who wasn’t Irish, his name wasn’t Patrick, he didn’t drive even one snake from Ireland and he wasn’t officially a saint.
Be that as it may, on this St. Patrick’s Day 2018, I wish you all that St. Pat did, especially that “your days be many and your troubles be few.”