The Story Behind St. Patrick’s Day

It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon and I’ve been catching up with my twenty-something daughters about their weekend exploits. This weekend the color green features heavily in the conversations – not the least of which is the dye that has turned our Chicago River a bright, almost fluorescent green. In addition, the beer is flowing freely and shamrocks are everywhere. Yes, they have been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

So here are a few interesting tidbits about this holiday.

A Shamrock is NOT a four-leaf clover and is not about “luck”

This is something I used to be really confused about. There is indeed such a thing as a four-leaf clover. It is a relatively rare find. Hence, to find one is considered lucky. Like: Winning the lottery is rare, so winning is considered lucky. But this has nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day.

A Shamrock IS a three-leaf clover and is about Christianity.

A three leaf clover is not so rare. It grows like a weed because…it is a weed. In Ireland (and other places), there are fields and fields of it. So how does this relate to St. Patrick’s Day?

Well, St. Patrick had an interesting relationship with Ireland. He was born and raised in what would later become England. But when he was sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and sold as a slave in Gaelic Ireland. There he toiled as a shepherd for six years. During this time he found God. Later, he escaped and made his way back home to Britain, went on to become a priest, and made the decision to trek back to Ireland to share the Christian message.

This is where the three-leaf clover comes in. St. Patrick found it to be a great prop in his presentations about the Holy Trinity. He would hold up the three-leaf clover for all in the crowds to see; then he would kick the drama up a notch, touching each leaf – one for the Father, one for the Son, one for the Holy Spirit.

St. Patrick died on March 17 (or so it is said). Over time, much folklore grew up around his life and work. And he became the patron saint of Ireland.

So Why the Holiday in the good ol’ US of A?

So why celebrate in the US? In a word: immigration. The Irish were once upon a time – in the mid-1800s — fleeing persecution and famine in their country. They flooded the shores of the United States — 1.5 million strong. And they brought their culture with them. Life here wasn’t easy for them. For a long time people born in the United States reviled the Irish – stereotyped and discriminated against them. But over time, they assimilated into the dominant American culture. And, the American culture has also embraced some Irish traditions. Like St. Patrick’s Day.

To end with an Irish blessing:

May your blessings outnumber
The shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.

OR you may prefer:

Here’s to a long life and a merry one
A quick death and an easy one
A pretty girl and an honest one
A cold beer and another one!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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