Coming as I do from Chicagoland, St. Patrick’s Day has always been the best excuse of the year– aside from New Year’s Eve, I suppose – to get my drink on. The Chicago River, which at one time was part of the view from my office window, would turn a garish emerald green overnight and the office would be buzzing with plans to guzzle insane quantities of goulish green beer. Those who weren’t inclined to dye their innards green might plunge into the rowdy crowds that line State Street for the annual St. Paddy’s Day parade.
March 18 of every year always held the record for the most tardy and/or absent employees on a given work day. Those who did show up were about as useless as the coffee they poured into their roiling guts. Resplendent in green attire, leprechaun ties and shamrock jewelry on the 17th, the office staff only wore green around their gills on the 18th.
Being a Catholic and all, it never occurred to me to question the relationship between all this desperate debauchery and the guy they were allegedly celebrating. This Patrick guy had the honorarium “Saint.” in front of his name, so I knew he must have been holy. I was never quite sure why people believed he mesmerized and lured thousands of Irish snakes to their deaths by drowning, but then, there were so many things about my religion I couldn’t quite fathom.
I have finally done the research. Let’s just say St. Patrick, who I assume is in Heaven with the rest of the sainted, is probably sulking in disgust right about now, anticipating yet another display of utter nonsense in his honor.
For starters, Patrick was not Irish. Historians place his birthplace as somewhere in the south of Scotland. At age 16 he was captured at his noble family’s farm and sent to Ireland as a slave. He believed it was his “just desserts” because he was so far afield from God. While in captivity he learned about the teachings of The Apostles who migrated to Ireland. He eventually escaped and made his way home, where he studied the Holy Scriptures and became grounded in faith.
Secondly, the shamrock, which we have come to recognize as the symbol of Ireland, is nothing of the kind. It was simply a prop Patrick used to help explain to the pagan Druids in Ireland the concept of the Christian trinity. In his short autobiography Confessions, Patrick describes a dream in which he was called by God to return to Ireland to convert all the people there to Christianity.
And then there are the snakes. All historical evidence suggests that there have never been any snakes on the Emerald Isle. The whole snake s tory is a myth, although some think it might have evolved symbolically from the Celtic snake, one of many pagan symbols. It could be argued that Patrick symbolically drove out paganism, because he was credited with converting all of Ireland.
Perhaps the most interesting insight I have gained through my brief research is the fact that St. Patrick did not practice Roman Christianity, which was what was taught and, in some cases, required in the Britain of the time. Instead, his was a Celtic Christianity, based more on the teachings of the apostles and far less on the teachings of Rome.
Concerning the training given in the Celtic Church during and after the time of Patrick, we read, “The youth in the Culdee [Celtic Church in Scotland about the 6th century] schools clung to the fundamental Christian doctrines, such as the divinity of Christ, baptism, the atonement, inspiration of the Scriptures, the prophecies connected with the last days. They did not accept the doctrines of infallibility, celibacy, transubstantiation, the confessional, the mass, relic worship, image adoration, and the primacy of Peter” (Truth Triumphant, Wilkinson, p.108).
Apparently, over the centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has worked successfully to re-invent the life of St. Patrick to better fit its version of Church history.
By all accounts this Patrick person was a serious, pious and industrious proponent of all that is holy. I believe it is safe to say he would not understand how his life and times have become the foundation for the sale of buttons and beer, and for drinking one’s self into oblivion.