Facebook Share Twitter Share Linkedin Share Pinterest Share
Why Do We Celebrate Saint Patrick's Day?

Why Do We Celebrate Saint Patrick's Day?

by Chris Petry

It’s okay, admit it. When you read the headline, you immediately thought, “So we have an excuse to gorge ourselves on red meat, potatoes, and enough Guinness to drown a water buffalo?” While that’s a perfectly acceptable way to celebrate, let’s take a moment to look a little deeper into the true origins of the suitably-commercialized commemoration from Old Ireland.
A classical legend about Saint Patrick, the Irish bishop and missionary for which the holiday is named, is that he drove the snakes out of Ireland. Of course, corny dads everywhere would joke it was because it was easier than walking them out. Come on, you’re giggling right now. However, the genesis for the celebration has nothing to do with snakes at all.
Saint Patrick was actually born on the British mainland during Roman occupation and first visited Ireland as a slave, having been kidnapped by Gaelic raiders in his teen years. He escaped, traversing the Irish sea back to his ancestral homeland, but returned years later to bring Christianity to the peoples who inhabited its interior.
Probably sometime in the 10th century, the Irish began to arrange festivities around March 17th to commemorate him. By then, centuries after his reported death in the 5th century, Saint Patrick had become a revered figure in Irish culture and lore.
That leaves us with an interesting question. What in the world does any of this have to do with leprechauns, four-leaf clovers, and the color green?  Well, like most holidays, early organizers began folding their pre-Christian cultural traditions into the new observance. Leprechauns are derived from ancient Irish folklore and, wait for this, get their own holiday on May, 13th! Excuse me but why are we not celebrating that stateside? Anyway, the myth around this one is that Danish invaders tasked the miniscule mischief makers with protecting their plunder. Which, of course, can be found at the end of a rainbow.
Legend has it, four leaf clovers (a rare variation) were kept by Druid priests as a symbol of good luck. Druids were Earth-centric shamans, and high-ranking members of society in pre-Roman Britannia. They revered trees, particularly oak, and were purported to heal various ailments with the use of herbs and remedies cultivated from their oceanic island environment.
Finally, there’s the business of all this green, green, green. Well, North Atlantic Island climates are well known for their cool air and vast annual rainfall creating lush vegetation. It’s likely this observation contributed to Ireland’s nickname of “The Emerald Isle.” Oh yeah, and snakes don’t take well to such climates so it’s unlikely there were ever snakes for Saint Patrick to chase away. Hate to be a buzzkill.
So, now you know the roots of this cheeky holiday. Why should you celebrate? Hey, there’s no obligation but if you do, whether you’re reaching back in time to honor ancient traditions or adorning yourself in a green plastic top hat and having a pint, you’ll surely find YOUR pot of gold.

For further reading: