Spring is nearly upon us bringing not only warmer temperatures, lush, green stems and buds teasing to open early, but the arrival of a much loved, but little known holiday. Yes folks, I’m referring to St. Patrick’s Day. The Celt’s (pronounced with a hard ‘C’) are responsible for the Chicago River being dyed green every year, Guinness’ beer sales skyrocketing, and every man, woman and child dressed in green out of fear of being pinched.
There is great controversy as to when St. Patrick was born, however it is widely accepted that he lived in the fourth century. When he was sixteen, he was enslaved by the Irish Raiders for six years before returning to his family home in Roman Britain where, like his father and grandfather before him, he devoted his life to the Church becoming a deacon and bishop. He then returned to Ireland as a missionary where it has been said that he drove the snakes from Ireland and this is where our story begins. Up until this point, Ireland had been a predominately Pagan country. They worshiped Athene, the goddess of wisdom and her symbol was in the form a snake or serpent, if you will to the point of embedding serpents into their coins. In an effort to explain the Holy Trinity to the Pagans, St. Patrick introduced a three leafed clover or the shamrock as an example and since then, has been considered a symbol of good luck and embedded image of Ireland.
As St. Patrick converted more and more Pagans to Christianity, it became a popular belief that he ‘drove the snakes from Ireland.’ History has proven that Ireland, being an island, never had any snakes residing among the countrymen and therefore, St. Patrick was simply teaching Christianity. So if you’re a fan of ‘The Simpson’s,’ this might help explain the episode titled, ‘Whacking Day.’ Physically driving the snakes from the town of Springfield, just as metaphorically in Ireland, the episode also relates to the tradition from the early 1900’s to demean the Irish immigrants.
Leprechauns are yet another delight associated with St. Patrick’s Day. Legends of these mischievous, two foot tall, Irish faeries are as important to St. Paddy’s Day as St. Patrick himself. Often found to be intoxicated by their own home brew, they are not only guards of great wealth, but enjoy playing tricks on poor unsuspecting humans, almost as much as they enjoy their drink.
So my friends as you celebrate this St. Paddy’s Day, be sure to drink a toast to the man himself who followed his beliefs, aided the poor, refused gifts offered by kings for baptizing their sons, and escaped execution for taking no payment. And if you happen to go in search of a lucky shamrock, be sure to be on the look out for the impish leprechauns, as you may just stumble upon their pot of gold.