The Swinging Pendulum of St. Patricks Day

It’s St. Patrick’s day, so let’s get drunk.

I’m only kidding, although I’m sure that most other people saying that today are not.

St. Patrick’s day was originally devised to commemorate the man of Patrick, commonly held to be the “Apostle of Ireland” who brought Christianity to the island. There are many days established by the Catholic Church to recognize the acts of the saints, however outside of Catholic culture most are forgotten, save for a few – notably St. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day.

In secular culture, these two days – February 14th and March 17th (their respective days of death) – are celebrated for different reasons, and both have evolved considerably over the years. St. Valentine’s Day took on a life of it’s own over the last few centuries, eventually becoming the day to exchange mass-produced greeting cards in schools and take one’s significant other out to dinner. Similarly, St. Patrick’s Day, which initially became a day to celebrate all things Irish, has since become a day to get sloshed while wearing green.

I read an article on MentalFloss this morning about 7 artifacts supposedly connected to St. Patrick. As I read through the list, I found it interesting the way these objects allegedly owned by Patrick were handled. Seeing the word “enshrined” crop up multiple times was interesting to me, and reflected what I see as a mistake by Christians from an earlier age – holding the canonical saints to a higher position than they were due. This is not to put down the acts of the saints – by no means – but instead is to recognize their position as humans.

Setting up a shrine to the lost tooth of a dead man is dangerously close to idol worship. As always, there is a fine line between historical preservation and historical reverence.

However, the second way I see in the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day is our modern rendition of it. I believe that it reflects a fatal flaw in our society that we have twisted days that were designed to make us think or consider something – in this case, the acts of Patrick – and turned them into days for our own thoughtless and inconsiderate debauchery.

As if we need another excuse to waste our time and potential by getting drunk. As if we need to ignore and disregard history rather than study and understand it.

Understand that I’m not a prohibitionist and I don’t believe, as some have, that alcohol is in some ways inherently evil. However, the watchword is ‘temperance’. St. Patrick’s day has become a day that flies in the face of temperance, with advertisers leaning on your shoulder, muttering sinuous suggestions that you should ‘indulge yourself’ while advocating that you “please drink responsibly.”

Then, when anyone states that we should remember the “true meaning” of St. Patrick’s Day, they start talking on about the mythology of him driving snakes from Ireland, believing that this story is the reason he is considered a saint, and that his life’s work was methodically hunting down a nest of serpents.

As usual, between the ‘kiss me, I’m Irish’ shirts and pinching on one side and the reverence of Patrick’s supposedly severed arm inside a silver, glove-shaped casket on the other, I believe the closer truth lies.

It’s easily forgotten that the three-leaved shamrock sported on lapels and earrings was purportedly used by Patrick to illustrate the three-in-one nature of the holy trinity – the Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We forget that young Patrick was born in a provincial Rome, in a coastal city, and despite his father being a local deacon Patrick himself lacked the faith. We forget that as a young man of 16 he was captured by pirates from across the sea in Ireland and taken captive for six years. We forget that during that time he repented of his sins and accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. We forget that, after being freed from his captivity, he felt called to return to Ireland again, perhaps “driving out the snakes” and bringing the Gospel to the land.

We forget all these things, and thus we don’t learn from them.

Proudly we drink, holding steins of alcohol over our heads, wasting ourselves.

Yet last in the list of 7 supposed artifacts of St. Patrick is his written confession, which begins in this way:

“My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers.”


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