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St. Patrick’s Day 2021

Are there any celebrations of saints that come close to rivalling Saint Patrick’s Day? Is March 17 a feast day in the religious sense? Is it primarily cultural? Is it a day for all of us to be Irish and to give ourselves permission to pause from Lent and celebrate with a Guinness or a glass of Bushmills or an Irish coffee? Or to add green dye to all kinds of things?

Patrick lived from about 385 to 461 and is the most well-known saint of Ireland. March 17 celebrates the man and the arrival of Christianity to Ireland. It increasingly celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish throughout the world.

The day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival. It includes the Irish diaspora, but also the wannabes. It can be criticized for its commercialization and for supporting stereotypes of the Irish people.

Patrick was a Romano-British Christian missionary, eventually a bishop in Ireland. He seems to have been kidnapped by Irish raiders and transported to Gaelic Ireland as a slave when he was a teen. It was while labouring as a shepherd that he claims to have found God.

God is supposed to have told Patrick to head to the coast, where he would find a ship waiting to head back to his native land. He eventually became a priest and returned to Ireland, in order to bring Christianity to pagan Ireland. Legend has it that his instructions on the Holy Trinity made use of the three-leaved shamrock.

The celebrations for Saint Patrick’s Day are probably greater outside Ireland that within – parades, festivals, traditional Irish music, green attire, lapel pins that state Kiss me, I’m Irish, and so on. There are festivities in some surprising parts of the globe. And even beyond the globe!

The International Space Station has seen a few astronauts celebrating the day. Our own Chris Hadfield had his turn in 2013. Terrestrial Canadians have had their fair share of celebrations for this day. Montreal has one of the longest-running and largest parades in North America.

It’s probably fun. But how Irish is it? Is there any connection to Saint Patrick and his legacy? Many of the festivities seem to have more focus on public drunkenness and tacky dollar-store decorations. And what about derogatory stereotypes of the Irish?

The leprechaun was a demeaning 19th century caricature of the Irish. I would imagine that the tackiness is more prominent outside Ireland, where foreigners are assuming to properly represent Irish culture.

We have of sense of the man’s spirituality in Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, whose author appears to be anonymous. Here is a well-known excerpt.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.