FYI: The traditional “red-hand” flag for Northern Ireland has not been in use since 1973.
Yes, I am Irish. I am VERY proud of my heritage. My mother was born just outside of Belfast, Northern Ireland (and I do make the distinction because there are TWO Irelands for those who don’t understand the politics there) and I’ve always loved that side of my ancestry.
St. Patrick’s Day was never celebrated in my home growing up. My mother moved away from much of her background because of the heathenism associated with a lot of Irish customs. I never really saw it much celebrated until the last few years (and especially this year). My sister and I were talking about it recently, and to be honest, I think that the advent of Pinterest has helped to foster a spirit of “in the know” in our secular world. Everyone feels they have to be a part of what is going on these days.
In order to help you understand why I choose not to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I want to give you a little background on the man behind the holiday and the customs behind it.
St. Patrick: the man
Little is known about the man himself. He was born sometime in the 4rth century and was taken from Britain to Ireland as a slave. Later, he claimed to have been told, in a dream by God, to escape and go back to Britain. Once there, he joined himself to a Catholic church and went into the priesthood.
There are some stories of his return to Ireland but some people say they have been confused with another priest who was sent to Ireland at that time as a missionary.
Many stories surrounding him say that he used the Shamrock (an Irish 3-leaf clover) to explain the Trinity.
There is also a myth that he drove all the snakes from Ireland (although there were probably never any there to begin with!) – it is probably more of a symbol of him driving paganism (worship of the snake) out of Ireland than anything else.
Even though St. Patrick was Catholic I will say that for all intents and purposes his heart was in the right place in wanting to see people turn to God. While I respect the man and his work, I don’t worship him by setting aside a day for him. The only person I worship is God. That being said, the holiday today does not honour the man and hasn’t in many years. Most people don’t even know who he is, and the fact that we don’t know much about his life adds to that thought.
In 1903, the government of the Republic of Ireland (not Northern Ireland), made St. Patrick’s Day an official holiday. It is interesting to note that the government actually banned bars and pubs from opening on March 17 because the drinking got so out of hand. This law was repealed in 1970, and if you know anything about the holiday today, it is all about the alcohol.
In the 1990’s the government decided to use St. Patrick’s Day as a way to commemorate Irish customs and culture. Hence, the birth of parades, etc.
This holiday is most widely celebrated by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church (or Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Lutheran Church. It is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Montserrat.
One person wrote that it is a time for “spiritual renewal and offering of prayers for missionaries worldwide” although I had never heard this before and have yet to see any evidence of this.
St. Patrick’s Day used to hold the colour blue, but has since turned to the Irish green and gold.
Interestingly, green is a colour associated with Catholics in Ireland. Protestants (although as a Baptist I would not consider myself in either camp, I would probably associate more with Protestants than Catholics) are known by the colour orange. Choosing to display or wear green on St. Patrick’s Day seems to be a bit like associating myself with the Catholics, speaking as a person on the sidelines of Irish culture, heritage, and religion.
Leprechauns – these anciet mythological fairies have long been a symbol of St. Patrick’s Day. Contrary to popular belief, leprechauns were not friendly, little creatures who sat on pots of gold. One person wrote:
“They are pipe smokers who love drinking beer and Irish whiskey. It is believed that Leprechauns will drown in a light rain, float away in a breezy day and get buried in a snowstorm. They are known for their naughty ways. These solitary fairies may be the ones playing tricks on humans whom they regard as foolish, flighty and greedy. From myths, these foul-mouthed Leprechauns are self-appointed guardians of ancient treasure left by Vikings. Leprechauns would show the person who could catch them the place where the treasure was hidden. But they usually trick that person and disappear when he looses an eye on them.”
I believe Patch the Pirate captured the essence of the leprechaun in his children’s cd, Limerick the Leprechaun. My grade 6’s didn’t even like listening to it because it “scared” them. Playing “tricks” on someone, regardless of the reason, is wrong. And I definitely do not consider people with “foul mouths” as appropriate to be around my children.
I understand that people see this day as a lot of fun. But, as Christians, I think we need to be “wise as serpents” when it comes to what we treat as “fun”. There’s nothing wrong with making a day super interesting and funny for your children. Decorating cupcakes, wearing a certain colour, etc…but we need to ask ourselves what we are promoting when we do so. Is it something that is wrong? Does it make it okay if we don’t tell our children what things really mean? Where do we draw the line?
Alcohol – sadly, this day is almost entirely about drinking. On no other day (except maybe Nova Scotia’s Natal Day) is the drinking of alcohol all day long so widely accepted as on this day.
This last point really sums it all up for me. I don’t partake of alcohol, and, Lord willing, I never will.
If St.Patrick’s Day was a time for “spiritual renewal and offering of prayers for missionaries worldwide” I might find more reason to celebrate the holiday. Unfortunately, I do not see how the consumption of alcohol works with “spiritual renewal” or even “prayer”.
Disclaimer: Let me just say before I get myself railroaded: I am in no way saying that YOU can not celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. I am saying that I CHOOSE not to. If you’ve never understood what St. Patrick’s Day is about then I hope that this little bit of information helps YOU to make an informed decision as to whether or not you will celebrate it. There are always up-sides and down-sides to every thing. Obviously, the holiday, as it is celebrated today, is not what it was originally intended to be. Christmas and Easter could also be put into that category. We each need to base our own decisions on the information that we have at our disposal.
If your family enjoys making crafts and cupcakes and wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, I am not putting you down. Every holiday has things about it that didn’t start out that way. Christmas has Santa, Easter has the “Bunny”…it really is all about what is in our hearts that determines what the holiday is for us. If you are Irish and can just enjoy the “Irishness” of the day then please do! Celebrate your heritage and enjoy promoting who you are.
Historical information found at: www.st-patricks-day.com
Information on leprechauns: www.unicorngarden.com/leprechauns.htm