“My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down on by many.”
The quote above comes from Patrick’s Confessio, his own words about his life and purpose, though he provides no surname and few details about his personal life. His account is focused on his mission of bringing Christ to Ireland in the early 5th century.
Patrick grew up in Roman Britain in a religious household. Though his father was a deacon and his grandfather a Catholic priest, Patrick himself was not inclined to religion. At sixteen years old, he was kidnapped from his home in England by Irish pirates, sold and forced to work in isolation. It was during his time in captivity, alone and broken, that he found God.
According to Patrick, God spoke to him for six years, telling him to escape his captor and find his way to the coast, where a ship would be waiting for him. Many legends developed over the years, describing his journey and highlighting his faith in God, and vaguely but miraculously, Patrick made it home to England and decided to become a priest.
Fueled by the fire of spreading the gospel of Christ, Patrick returned to Ireland to bring Jesus to an otherwise unreached people group. The legend tells of Patrick’s years of evangelism and the thousands converted by his witness. According to history.com, “Within 200 years of Patrick’s arrival, Ireland was completely Christianized.”
Patrick is believed to have died on March 17, in the late 400s A.D. Centuries later, the Catholic Church dubbed Patrick the patron saint of Ireland and subsequently dedicated the day of his death as a feast day. However, March 17, now known as St. Patrick’s Day, falls within the Lenten season of the liturgical calendar. Within broad Christianity, including Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestant Christianity, the liturgical year marks feast days, theological seasons and celebrations in the Christian church, like the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Lent is a season of prayer and fasting, takes place this year between Feb. 14 and March 29 and begins on Ash Wednesday, going until Good Friday. Lent observers often fast from alcohol, certain foods or social media.Because St. Patrick’s Day is during Lent, all restrictions are lifted for this day of remembrance and celebration.
In the early 1800s, the holiday became a common American practice. Today, it is celebrated in most cities with a huge parade but has been widely commercialized as a day known for excessive parties, a practice perpetuated by the lift of restrictions in favor of celebrating.
According to the legends, Patrick used a shamrock, also called a clover, to explain the Trinity while evangelizing. He would use the three-leafed plant to demonstrate one God in three persons and thus, the shamrock became a symbol of St. Patrick’s Day. The color green is attributed to this historic day because green is the color associated with Irish Catholics, while Protestant Christians are often associated with the color orange. As time continued, green became associated with Ireland as a whole and the day used to celebrate Irish heritage and culture. In many paintings and icons of Patrick, he is usually wearing green or surrounded by green and holding both a shamrock and a cross.
St. Patrick’s Day is meant to be a celebration of the freedom found in the gospel of Christ. Over 1500 years later, this holiday is still celebrated because of Patrick’s love for God and the Great Commission. Patrick went to a land where God’s light was dim and His voice was not heard, and God used him to illuminate the heart of a nation.
“That is why I cannot be silent–nor would it be good to do so–about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven.”