It’s March and the 17th will be Saint Patrick’s Day. This is a day most kids associate with wearing green, so that they do not get pinched by relentless siblings or scheming peers, cutting out shamrocks and four-leaf clovers, and drawing leprechauns with rainbows and pots of gold. Like many once-religious holidays, it is often in the United States viewed as an opportunity to party, a holiday for a few good pints of Guinness, and a dinner of shepherd’s pie or corned beef hash. But why do we celebrate this Irish holiday in our country?
Maybe it is time to look into the historic reasons behind our holidays. For instance, do any of us really know much about who Cupid is besides a cherubic-looking being with a quiver and arrows, most often seen on Victorian-styled Valentine cards and old ladies’ bathroom wallpaper? In February, you might have looked into the myth of how Cupid was the son of Roman goddess Venus and god Mars. He was sent on a mission by his mother to do a little evil matchmaking on princess Psyche. The events, in good mythological fashion, took an ironic turn and Cupid fell in love with Psyche. The story goes on but the point is one of our major holiday icons of this and the last century is tied to myths of ancient Rome but we typically don’t know a whole lot about it.
Well, the same goes for Saint Patrick, who was a real flesh and blood person. His story goes something like this: The man we know as Patrick was born in Britain sometime around 380 AD and was raised in a Christian family. He was kidnapped at age sixteen, taken to Ireland, and made to be a slave who herded sheep. Six years later he escaped and made his way back to Britain. After living thoughtfully and quietly in his homeland, he found himself called to religious study so he might return to Ireland to teach people about God. In 432 AD the Pope named him Patricus (Patrick) when he became a priest and eventually a bishop. As a bishop he traveled back to Ireland preaching, building churches and starting schools. In addition to those accomplishments, he was known for demonstrating love, care and kindness toward the Irish. He died on March 17, 461 AD and was later canonized a saint by the Catholic Church. And thus we have Saint Patrick’s Day, a cultural holiday when people celebrate Irish customs as well as give thanks at church for Saint Patrick and his work in Ireland.
So, as you savor your Irish stew, soda bread, cocannon (potato and kale dish) and dark pints this month, and while you don your leprechaun hats with an orange and green scarf around your neck, remember Saint Patrick and remember to share the stories behind the holiday with your children so they have a base of understanding. It is a chance to talk about how things change and how they stay the same; how times were different then and what remains consistent in human nature; or where Ireland is on a map. Your children will know a bit more about the man behind the holiday and every March 17 when they sport their green they’ll recall the kindness that one man brought to many.