*This piece was originally solicited for publication in the March issue of Bakersfield Life Magazine, but wound up not running after all so it is published here instead.
For most Americans St. Patty’s has become a reason to indulge in getting drunk on green beer and suddenly everyone is Irish that day begging for their kisses! Throw in a bit of pagan lore and the pious among us are left shaking their fists at the “traditions of men.”
Before becoming an Orthodox Christian and embracing the celebration of saints and feasts nearly every day of the year, I came from a tradition that didn’t celebrate much at church except a Christmas program (not on Christmas) and Easter.
Oh, we still did plenty of other celebrating, just divorced from the life of faith. Holidays, a combination of the words “Holy Days,” that were tied to church were ironically met with skepticism at their authenticity and balking at their consumer driven nature.
Until I started rereading history with my kids and researching old holidays, I didn’t even know who St. Patrick was or why he had a holiday named after him.
St. Patrick was born in Britain. He was captured by pirates at 16 and taken to Ireland where he was a slave. He spent a lot of time alone praying during his work and had visions that told him of his return to his home country. His visions were finally fulfilled after six years of captivity. Upon his return to Britain he studied for the priesthood returning to Ireland as a missionary.
The Enlightener of Ireland was not its first missionary, but he was the most successful. He is often pictured with a three leaf clover, not four, which he used to illustrate the triune God: each leaf representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit growing from a single stem. St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 (some say 492).
When the Irish immigrated to America, they brought the veneration of their most famous saint with them. Over time this became blended with all that it meant to be Irish: green to remind them of their beautiful “Emerald Isle,” fairytales, a good stout at the local pub, corned beef and potatoes. Would St. Patrick be scandalized at our modern celebrations of his holy day? Maybe not, after all St. Patrick loved the Irish so much that even though he was formerly enslaved by them, he dedicated his life to serving them.
What is a person wanting to embrace a more meaningful celebration of St. Patrick to do? Well, amusingly enough, calling around to several churches of various branches of Christianity yielded either no response at all or seeming confusion that I would even ask!
As for my family, we will do what we do every year: make construction paper Trinity shamrocks, enjoy the green foothills surrounding our valley that remind us of pictures of Ireland, love on Irish friends and read stories about St. Patrick. We will also probably get together with friends for green drinks and rainbow food just because it is fun. Not every holy day needs to be so serious!