Wear a little green on St. Patrick’s Day


St. Patrick

St. Patrick stained glass window in St. Benin’s Chruch, Wichlow Ireland (courtesy Andreas F. Bochert)

HOLT, Fla., March 16, 2017—Brush off the green and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow.

“The day of the festival of Patrick” is celebrated as both a religious and festive holiday, commemorating Ireland’s foremost patron saint and the arrival of Christianity to Ireland.

Celebrated as St. Patrick Day, March 17 is the traditional date of the saint’s death.

Though no one knows for sure the actual date of his birth or death, tradition has it that Patrick died March 17, 461 and was buried at Downpatrick in Northern Ireland.

At the time of his death, the Catholic church didn’t have a formal canonization process, and wouldn’t have until sometime in the 12th century, so Patrick was never canonized a saint. He was proclaimed a saint by popular acclamation.

He’s been a saint in name only all these years.

Who Was St. Patrick?
It can be difficult to separate fact from legend when discussing the popular saint.

It’s generally agreed that St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain in the 5th century and that he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland as a slave, possibly when he was 16. During his time of capture, he “found god,” escaped Ireland and returned to his family. He became a priest and continued religious service like his father, who was a deacon, and his grandfather, who was a priest.

Later, Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary to convert the pagan Irish and is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland.

One of the legends surrounding St. Patrick was how he drove the snakes out of Ireland, chasing them into the sea. However, snakes never existed in Ireland. Ireland is one of only four places around the world without snakes, the others being New Zealand, Iceland Greenland and Antarctica.

Some scholars suggest the snake tale was allegorical, possibly referring to the druids or pagan worshippers of serpent gods. Perhaps the snakes were simply a symbol of evil, as in the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

The Shamrock
St. Patrick is also identified with the shamrock. The word naturally comes from Ireland and means “little clover” or “young clover.”

Since it’s believed St. Patrick used the three-leaved shamrock to help explain the Holy Trinity, the legend ties the tiny green clover to Ireland.

Because of the strong association, the shamrock has become a symbol of Ireland, much like the rose is a symbol of England.

However, a common misconception, the “wearing of the green” doesn’t mean wearing green from head to toe on St. Patrick’s day, though that can be festive, but refers to wearing a tiny sprig of clover known as a shamrock, a symbol of Ireland.

The color green
Besides the obvious green color of the shamrock, green has been associated with Ireland since the 17th century.

But it wasn’t always green.

The original color associated with St. Patrick was blue, known as St. Patrick’s blue, and is the official color of the state. The use of the color green began during the Irish Rebellion in 1798 as symbol of nationalism.

Additionally, according to a 2004 National Geographic article, green was thought to bring bad luck because it was the favorite color of the unpredictable fairy people.

Wearing too much green could entice a visit by these fairy folks who were known to steal people away.

Countries around the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with festivals, parades, green in many forms and as a religious holiday.

Before the 20th century, anyone making a pilgrimage to Ireland to participate in St. Patrick’s Day festivities would have found businesses closed and people at Catholic mass because it was a holy day of obligation. Even the pubs were closed.

For centuries, St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t celebrated with festive parades, bar crawls and green beer. Ireland didn’t get into the swing of things until the mid-1990s when the government realized St. Patrick’s Day was a good tourist draw.

Whether Irish or Catholic, both or none, get into the spirit of the day with a little “wearing of the green.

Stephanie Holcombe

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