Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day

"If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God so as to teach these peoples; even though some of them still look down on me."

St. Patrick

Today, at your workplace or at school or wherever you happen to be, you may notice more green being worn than usual.

That's a sure sign that today is St. Patrick's Day, which is synonymous in the public mind with leprechauns and shamrocks and drinking.

Another sure sign is parades, many of which have been annual traditions for hundreds of years.

I guess he is regarded as the patron saint of Ireland. But relatively little else is remembered about St. Patrick. In fact, not much is actually known about him.

It isn't known precisely when he was born, although most historians seem to agree that he was born late in the fourth century. And the exact year of his death also is in dispute. It is generally agreed that he died in the fifth century, but the exact year is unknown. The one thing on which most people seem to agree is that he died on March 17.

Apparently, St. Patrick was a missionary, and, originally, the holiday that bears his name was strictly a Christian holiday, but, over the years, it has evolved into an Irish celebration.

Legend tells us that St. Patrick introduced the Christian concept of the Trinity to the Irish using the three–leaved shamrock. Hence, modern St. Patrick's Day celebrations involve pinning a shamrock to one's clothing — the famed "wearing of the green."

A lesser known legend concerning St. Patrick is that he drove all the snakes from Ireland. Modern science has more or less discredited that one with its determination that Ireland never had any snakes. But it makes a good story — and a biblical one as well, given the role the snake played in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve.

Leprechauns seem to play a prominent role on St. Patrick's Day, too, but, frankly, I'll be damned if I can figure out what relation they had to the actual St. Patrick. Perhaps an answer can be found at the National Leprechaun Musem that opened a week ago today in Dublin.

I don't know where the concept of "luck of the Irish" came from. I do know that it was the title of four movies, two of which were silent pictures. I also know that, for whatever reason, being Irish is perceived as being lucky.

That may be part of the reason why scholar Thomas Cahill wonders "[w]hy should we celebrate the Irish?" in today's New York Times. He praises the Irish contribution to literacy, including the role St. Patrick played.

And, as a writer, that is certainly something I can endorse as well.

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