St. Patrick’s Day

I’m making two posts today. I’ve already posted my reflections on Saint Patrick the man. In this post I’m writing about the holiday in which St. Patrick’s feast day is celebrated. St. Patrick’s day is a festive day that is a break from Lent and a harbinger of Spring. It’s a way that Irishness is celebrated worldwide, albeit the festive nature was a creation of the diaspora. Until recently, St. Patrick’s day in Ireland was a solemn day of prayer in tribute to the man who helped bring Christianity to Ireland to stay.

If you asked me when I was a child what my favorite days of the year are, I would have told you Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day. For me, St. Patrick’s Day was all about celebrating my family’s Irish heritage, usually attending the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on 5th Avenue in New York. The weather was often miserable (and sometimes oddly localized) but it was fun to see the marching police, nurses, firefighters, and pipe bands. Even on days when I had to go school it felt special. No one else’s ethnicity had a special day where everyone dressed up regardless of heritage. I often donned an Irish sweater for the day, deliberately shunning green. Green was for all my Italian-American classmates, I had nothing to prove.

Growing up and moving to Virginia, the bloom started to fall of my St. Patrick’s Day shamrock. The Irish-American stereotypes and superficiality of the day started to get under my skin. Not to mention that someone started that whole pinching people who don’t wear green thing (ouch!). My joyous day had become just an excuse to get drunk. I thought it would be better when I moved to Boston, the most Irish city in America, but it was more of the same. 364 days a year you can find an Irish pub with traditional music and enjoy a nice pint with your friends. On St. Patrick’s Day the cover is $25, the beer is green (sacrilege) and the traditional Irish music is replaced with a crappy band and pub packed full of drunks. No thanks.

But there is a parade in Boston, the site of the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in America. I attended the parade in South Boston the first two years I’ve lived here. I was impressed by the intimate, neighborhood feel of the parade. As a opposed to the grandiose, almost martial statement of New York’s parade to the world, the South Boston parade has more of a homespun feel. Folks sit on their steps of their homes and seem to know each parade participant personally. On the downside attending this parade makes me feel like a total outsider, as if I was crashing someone else’s family. The parades in both Boston and New York have also been embroiled on controversy by excluding Irish-American gays & lesbians and anti-war veterans which leaves me on the opposite side politically as well. I guess I can glean a little bit of hope of the barriers of prejudice breaking down by the fact that the New York parade has selected a Bostonian for Grand Marshall.

So in recent years I’ve been trying different ways of regaining my youthful exuberance for St. Patrick’s Day whether it be seeing an Irish band live or spending a quiet night with friends. In 2002 I spent St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin. Late to the parade party, the Irish capital have made up for lost time with a creative, artistic parade and a week-long festival throughout the city. This year I hope to attend the parade in Holyoke, MA which claims to be the second largest in the world after New York. Whatever I do, St. Patrick’s Day is still a very special day. And I probably won’t wear green.

Get your St. Patrick’s Day resources here:

That’ll keep me from being a sourpuss this St. Patrick’s Day.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all! Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig! Sláinte agus Saol Agaibh!

Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick

Except for the Virgin Mary, no other saint is as well known or inspires more devotion than Saint Patrick. At least in the parts of the world where emigrants from Ireland have settled, and the Irish diaspora is spread far and wide. Despite this, no biographical description of Patrick contains many certain details, and in fact legend and contradiction tend to overshadow the historical Patrick. Scholar Thomas F. O’Rahilly even contends that there were two Patricks whose life stories were intertwined.

What we know about Patrick that may be true:

  • He was born in Britain of mixed Briton/Roman ancestry sometime around 415 (or maybe 387).
  • Irish raiders captured him and forced him into slavery as a shepherd when he was a teenager.
  • In his early 20’s, Patrick escaped from slavery and returned to Britain and reunited with his family.
  • Having drawn closer to God during his enslavement, Patrick entered the priesthood and would eventually be ordained bishop and sent on a mission to Ireland.
  • Patrick returned to Ireland around 433. While not the first person to teach Christianity to the Irish, his mission would have lasting impact and he converted many Irish.
  • He wrote two texts that survive to this day, the Confessio and Epistola.
  • He died on March 17, probably in 493 (or maybe 461).

Things that probably are not true about Patrick:

  • Snakes were never indigenous to Ireland, so St. Patrick did not need to remove them. The story works on a symbolic level if you see the snake as the devil, as in the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
  • Patrick probably never used a three-leaf clover as a model of the three-in-one nature of the Holy Trinity, although it is a wonderful simile and the shamrock is a lasting and powerful symbol.

What’s important about Patrick, whether man or myth, is the lessons of humility and courage that have incredible durability. My own relationship with Patrick begins with celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by attending the parade and all the great qualities of being Irish-American. Later in life I experience a more spiritual aspect of Patrick whether it be by praying in the Cathedral of St. Patrick or visiting places in Ireland where he walked. Last year I read the Confessio during Lent. I expect St. Patrick will continue to guide me throughout my life.

There is more on St. Patrick at Saint of the Day, Catholic Online, and Catholic Encyclopedia.  Busted Halo offers Six Things You Should Know About St. Patrick. There is also a lovely reflection on St. Patrick at Flos Carmelli. It’s worthwhile to read and learn more about St. Patrick.