St. Patrick’s Day: Feel the luck o’ the Irish for a Christian saint

MONDAY, MARCH 17: Legends of snakes and shamrocks color the world green today, as Christians, the Irish and anyone who enjoys some corned beef and Guinness celebrates St. Patrick’s Day.

In honor of a missionary saint born in the 4th century, St. Patrick’s Day has, since its earliest days, been observed gaily by the Irish; the day later became a landmark of Irish culture, food and history just about everywhere. Lenten restrictions are typically lifted on St. Patrick’s Day, so Christians, too, can enjoy participate in the frivolous activities.


Despite the renowned holiday, the life of St. Patrick remains shrouded in mystery. Only a few credible writings exist, including Patrick’s own Latin letters, Declaration and Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus. In Declaration, Patrick gives an account of his life and mission, while also humbling himself before God in gratuity. Most scholars hold a theory known as “Two Patricks,” in that several of the details not mentioned in Declaration actually belonged to the life of Palladius, a bishop sent by Pope Celestine I to Ireland. With time, the two lives were blended into one.


Historical accounts date Patrick’s birth to approximately 385 CE. A Roman Briton born near Dumbarton, Scotland, Patrick resided with his family until his mid-teens, when he was captured by raiders; Patrick was kidnapped to Ireland, and spent six years as an enslaved sheep herder. (Wikipedia has details.) It was during this time of captivity that he turned to God, finding a passion for the Christian faith of his father and grandfather amid pagan Ireland. He wrote:

“The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same.”

One night, at age 20, Patrick had a dream: God told him to leave Ireland by going to the coast. Patrick risked his life and ran for the coast, convinced sailors to let him board, and returned home to his family. At home, Patrick was plagued by dreams that bade him back to Ireland, and after studying for priesthood, he returned to Ireland. (Learn more from American Catholic.) Patrick would spend almost 40 years Christianizing pagan Ireland, gathering disciples and building churches. Royal families and entire kingdoms converted to Christianity after hearing Patrick’s creed, and rumor of miracles circulated. At the end of his mission, Patrick died at Saul, near the first church he had built. The date was March 17, 461 CE.

Did you know? Patrick has never formally been canonized by a Pope. (Don’t worry—he’s still on the List of Saints.)


The shamrock was treasured in Ireland long before the advent of Christianity, as a symbol of rebirth and the Triple Goddesses; St. Patrick used the plant to illustrate the Holy Trinity to the pagans. Originally, the color associated with St. Patrick was blue, but as years passed, green grew in popularity. The legend that St. Patrick banished all snakes from Ireland is also false—at least, in a literal sense. It has been suggested that this story refers to the tattoo of a serpent that many Druids bore, and St. Patrick, thereby, “banished” the pagan religion.


Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and what better way to get into the Irish spirit than with some enticing fare?

  • Food and Wine suggests savory recipes for meat and potatoes, naturally green foods and Guinness ice cream.
  • Authentic shepherd’s pie, soda bread and green velvet layer cake are showcased at Food Network.


St. Patrick’s festivities have been gathering momentum worldwide, from the St. Patrick’s Day Festival in Dublin—which gathers crowds of close to 1 million and began earlier this week—to the longest-running parade in North America, in Montreal. The Chicago River has been dyed green annually for more than 50 years, but this year, residents ask: Can you dye ice? (The answer, Chicago Tribune reports: Yes, you can.)

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