St. Patrick’s Day: Holiday or Holy Day?

-by Emily Akin-

What are you doing on St. Patrick’s Day? Wearing the green so you won’t get pincross-66709_1920ched? Carrying around a shamrock hoping for the luck of the Irish? Wondering who St. Patrick is and why there’s a festival in his honor?

Originally, St. Patricks’ Day was a holy day, set aside by the church to celebrate the life and ministry of the English priest who brought the Gospel to Ireland. He was fearless confronting paganism and tireless in his efforts to win souls. Yet, he was humble, considering himself no better than any other sinner.

Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He was born in England and died in Ireland on March 17, circa 460 AD. Patrick, like Paul and the other apostles, was “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thessalonians 2:4a). He answered the call and left his homeland to face danger and uncertainty in the name of Christ.

Patrick used elements of Celtic pagan spirituality to teach Christian concepts. For example, the Celtic cross is superimposed with a circle, the symbol of eternity, mystery, or the sun, depending on whose opinion you believe. Legend says that he used the three-leafed shamrock to teach the concept of the Trinity also. Patrick’s ministry among the Celts of Ireland resulted in a strong Christian church. In fact, the Irish church is credited with preserving Christian texts and even the faith itself, during the Dark Ages.

Knowing these things about Patrick, I have a problem with the way people celebrate his day. Most recently, I cringed at the green sign at the entrance of a hotel bar: “St. Patrick’s Day Special, half-price beer, 4:00-6:00 p.m.” What a shame to see the name of a courageous Christian used to promote getting drunk. I guess these things happen because the holy day in Patrick’s honor became more of a secular holiday after it was imported to America by Irish immigrants. Today, St. Patrick’s Day has become a secular day in Ireland, too, a day to celebrate all things Irish.

This year, let’s go beyond wearing the green and sporting shamrocks. Let’s celebrate Patrick as one of our forebears in the faith. Let’s witness to others using Patrick’s faith as an example.