The Significance of St. Patrick’s Day

It would be understandable to mistake the meaning of St. Patrick’s Day as something akin to “Irish Heritage Day” or, judging from how many people choose to celebrate it, “Excuse to get Drunk Day”. However, behind the secular symbols of leprechauns and green beer, St. Patrick’s Day has the significance of being one of the few feast days of a Catholic saint to be widely considered a holiday. This was actually something very common during a period of the Middle Ages where many saints’ feast days were treated as public holidays and days off from work. While modern American culture is far more mixed and secular, there still remain a few trappings of this old Catholic tradition. As the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick has historically been held in very high esteem by the country’s Christian population in thanks for his being the first to introduce them to the Gospel. While this would normally have been a celebration largely confined to Ireland, the 19th century’s potato famine and mistreatment from British landlords drove many Irish to other parts of the world, spreading the tradition first as a preservation of their faith and culture, and later catching on to other non-Irish people. Fitting for March, the holiday is considered a sign of the coming of spring as well and, in Ireland, outdoor dances and parties are often held, decked with sprigs of shamrocks and green ribbons, and serving the traditional holiday dish of boiled bacon and cabbage. In Ireland, American, England, New Zealand, or anywhere Irish culture has had an influence, March 17th remains a day of significance in honor of a man and his willingness to follow God’s plan of evangelizing the pagan druidic clans of ancient Ireland in spite of the great dangers it would bring. Such courage is something that can inspire and relate to anyone, Irish or not.

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