I’m not big on conspiracies, but it seems to me St. Patrick’s Day is getting the shaft. I’m ranking it No. 5 behind Christmas, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Easter. Halloween is for kids and future diabetics. Check out the top ten lists of our most popular holidays, and it’s not on any of them. It is ranked behind Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Day and even Labor Day. Nobody wants to work anymore and we’re still celebrating Labor Day?
As worthy as any of those might be, everybody gets a Monday off (and, for many, the Friday after Thanksgiving)—a long weekend—and St. Patrick gets, what, March17th? Whenever that happens to fall, nobody gets another day off and probably not St. Pat’s Day itself. Yet it has the two key ingredients for a great holiday— religion and alcohol consumption. Even though it is named after a saint, it is regarded as a secular holiday, but I submit that its namesake deserves as much respect as a bunch of hungry Pilgrims.
How can you not believe in St. Patrick? I don’t know how saintly he was, but the guy sure had a lot of people claiming to be Irish in the fifteen centuries since his death. He’s also responsible for a surge in the sales of spirits, particularly beer, green or otherwise, and a plethora of parades. For every twinkling Irish eye on St. Patrick’s Day, there is a mean drunk making lives miserable.
I’m sure that’s not what St. Patrick would have wanted, but then again the man wasn’t even Irish. He was born in England, and he came to Ireland to convert the brutish, swaggering oafs who lived on the Emerald Isle. His goal was to convert everyone on the face of the earth and bring about the End of Times, proclaiming that the Irish were “the furthest extreme of the world”—the last of the heathen to be converted, if you will, and that does not show a lot of admiration for the Irish on his part.
But, what the hey, anybody who can drive the snakes out of Ireland is worth quaffing a few pints of Guinness or even the downing of a Shamrock Shake. Okay, so the snake thing is legend, but if Tucker Carlson can rewrite history that happened barely two years ago, we certainly should give St. Pat considerable latitude for exploits, real or imagined, 1,500 years into antiquity.
They say we’re all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, even if St. Patrick wasn’t. I suspect he was a little too cranky and a lot too straitlaced and pious to really have been much fun in an Irish pub. My guess is he’d be that guy complaining about the music being too loud, but who wouldn’t be a little crabby spending his days on rocky terrain shepherding resentful snakes.
Yes, pretty much all we know about St. Patrick is legend, though one powerful enough to transform a nation of heathens into one of the most faithfully Catholic countries on Earth, with 3.4 million of its 6.2 million population practicing that faith. We can’t give St. Patrick all the credit—or blame, if you prefer—for that, but he certainly got the whole Catholicism thing off to a running start.
In some ways you could argue that Patrick’s conversion of the Irish to Christianity was something like the revenge of an ancient nerd. He was, after all, abducted by thugs as a boy, taken to Ireland against his will and forced into slavery. There is no way this experience could have enamored him to the Hibernians, and the high point of his life was escaping back to Britain where the despoiled lad, born in prominence and wealth, found refuge in the church.
It was the church who sent him back to Ireland to wreak vengeance on the populace by converting them to Christianity. Vengeance may have been the Lord’s, but Pat was happy to be his mortal weapon. Others had gone before him on similar missions to this craggy isle—and this was a thousand years before Columbus allegedly discovered America—but it was Patrick’s prescription that took hold of the heathen Hibernians.
So what does all of this have to do with green beer and shamrocks. The shamrock story is one we’ve all heard. Patrick supposedly used it to explain the Christian Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Ghost—and that was a pretty cool teaching tool. The shamrock is a clover, which begs the question: If the shamrock is so special, why does the four-leaf variety bring you luck? As for the leprechaun, another symbol of St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland, this diminutive practical joker comes from pagan origins and would have probably been as popular with Patrick as those snakes he failed to remove because they were never there.
That’s because those nonexistent snakes were metaphors for evil and the prevalent unbelievers populating the isle. The whole story, as it turns out, came to symbolize his triumph over heathenism. So there never were snakes in Ireland, Erin, Eire or whatever the ancients called it, and the science to explain it was not really in fashion back then— sort of like what it has become in our times. They turned to mythology to give Ireland’s patron saint credit for conquering paganism, if not those pesky Protestants.
In some ways you could argue that Patrick’s conversion of the Irish to Christianity was something like the revenge of an ancient nerd. He was, after all, abducted by thugs as a boy, taken to Ireland against his will and forced into slavery. There is no way this experience could have enamored him to the Hibernians, and the high point of his life was escaping back to Britain where the despoiled lad, born there in prominence and wealth, found refuge in the church.
So this guy wasn’t even Irish, didn’t want to live in Ireland, snakes or not, and scurried back to England as soon as he met his quota of converted Irish pagans. I’m sure that Patrick , born Maewyn Succat, would be disappointed to know that the traditional day of his death is now a secular holiday where the most popular activities are holding parades when it’s cold enough to see your breath and thawing out by consuming large quantities of warm beer.
This often results in sinful, if not pagan, behavior, but it’s no accident that Easter is three weeks to a month away. That means Christians of all denominations can get back to fasting, praying and trying to remember what they did celebrating St. Patrick that they should be forgiven for.