Thursday, March 14, 2013

Saint Patrick's Day: Let's Get This Céilidh Started!

March 17th is almost upon us. You know what that means...

A McDonald's Shamrock shake.
It's the shamrockiest!
Sniff my butt, I'm Irish.
...Oh... And it's Saint Patrick's Day season.

So get yourselves up and get to work aping Irish culture. You know, wearing green, wearing funny hats, talking in a funny accents, and... getting plastered on watery American beer?

And that's the feast day of St. Patrick!

Okay, okay. I know I have been one to point out that holidays grow and change, and break out of cultures or religions. And St. Patrick's has done that to an extent. But it is also odd to me that it's a national holiday as well. So people act out certain stereotypes  And I'm not fond of perpetuating stereotypes. Of course, it's also become a day that the Irish like to promote cultural awareness, if you keep an eye out for events. As well, like Mardi Gras and Christmas, this day is also just an excuse to have a party, do some dancing, and, maybe, wear some green. ...And I do love green.

So let's get back to it's origins. (Now YOU Must Learn. HAHAHAHAHA!)

March 17th is deemed to be the date of St. Patrick of Ireland's death. It's said he was then buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, Down County. Common for the day, St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, was never officially canonized by a pope and church. It was more a regional decision. But from that start his sainthood has been embraced by the Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal  and Orthodox churches. It took time for him to gain acceptance, but more and more he was acknowledged in the church. So, he got a feast day, and became a rallying point in Irish culture. But that's the end of the his tale.

Looking at the start is a little trickier. He is considered to be a Romano-Brit, of noble birth. His family had been in the religion business at that point for generations. Early in his life he was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland as a slave. He later was able to return to Britain. He entered the Church then, and after rising to bishop was sent back to Ireland to convert the island to Catholicism (and fight crime as a proto-Zorro -- But that may just be my own head canon. Or I may be confusing the Green Bishop with the Green Hornet.). And with that he descends into legend.

The trouble with stories and writing of Patrick's time in Ireland is that it is not necessarily clear what is him and what is others that were evangelizing before and after him in Ireland. As often happens when cobbling together history, legends, or parables, the names may be changed and events altered to protect the innocent...or just make a better/easier to understand story.

Before Patrick was sent to Ireland, Palladius was sent to Ireland on the same mission, becoming the first bishop in Ireland. So some of his writings, words, and actions likely were blended in to the activities of Patrick.

But Patrick is remember for the overall effort to bring Christianity to dominance in Ireland. Which did occur. (And once the Magdalene Asylums were set up, it was smooth sailing for Ireland. We will be taking no questions.) That is where the imagery of St. Patrick driving the snakes out comes from, the conversion of people from Druidic faith to his own (We'll hope it was just converting.). It may be similar to the story of St. George and his "dragon".

It's like the story of his walking stick which would become a tree. The story goes he would plant it in the ground and preach. Then when he found it had taken root in the place, he would move on. Get it! It's alluding to something. It's cute...kinda.

Then their is the embrace of the shamrock, three-leafed clover. It is said that Patrick used it to describe the concept of a Holy Trinity (Insert your own sex act joke here. Whoa hey!), and then carried and wore them as a symbol to people. They say that.

Trouble is, can you actually tie the shamrock to any of his direct teachings. Because it seems to only arise as tied to him more than 1,000 years after his death. So, like with so many tales and legends, St. Patrick may have been rebooted and upgraded. Perhaps shamrocks had started to be used as a symbol of trinity or the crucifix, perhaps it had become more significant to people, and it was decided to go back and tie it to this significant religious figure.

Going back long before Patrick, the shamrock was a revered image in Ireland. It was green, which was an important symbol to them. And it represented the number three, also significant to the early peoples of Ireland. So it is not hard to imagine, like in other lands and times, Christian proselytizers taking advantage of the symbol and it's parallels to further sell the faith. It's just a question of if it was a practice predating Patrick, of his making (but no records survived), or just adopted later on. I could not say. Still, no one cares, and here we are, with a shamrock. And people seem to love them.

But what about the vaunted four-leaf clover then? If the three-leafer represents the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what's the fourth one for then? This...

Finally! A positive image of Ireland.
Yes, yes, their is a corny explanation:
"The first is for faith, the second is for hope, the third is for love, and the fourth is for luck."
But, come on! Leprechauns. Leprechauns! That's where it's at. It's always the answer.

At least it's better than faith, hope, love, and luck...Yeesch.

So, a millennia later all the pieces were falling in place for St. Patrick's Day.

  • We have the snakes. 

Though I think most of us forget about them. They aren't dragons.

  • We have our shamrocks.

Good for shakes, pendents, and easily recognizable Irish logos.

  • We also have parades.

...Which aren't an Irish or Patricky idea at all... It's an American thing. But the Irish have taken to it...after 200 years. I'll be honest, and say I'm not big on parades. But if you like them, it's your lucky day.

  • And theirs the beer.

Beer. As I noted in looking at Mardi Gras, we are in Lent now. So I wondered how a St. Patrick feast day would work. And even in Ireland their are times during which bars were required to be closed on the 17th. Apparently, most Catholic churches give dispensation for people to eat and drink on the 17th. A loophole to fasting in the in the Catholic Church, I don't believe it! Still, any out on fasting is a good one. So enjoy!

And in ending, I wanted to be sure you knew that, yes, their are people being huge pills about the fun side of St. Patrick's:
Christian leaders in Ireland have expressed concern about the secularisation of St Patrick's Day. In The Word magazine's March 2007 issue, Fr.Vincent Twomey wrote, "It is time to reclaim St Patrick's Day as a church festival." He questioned the need for "mindless alcohol-fuelled revelry" and concluded that "it is time to bring the piety and the fun together.
Trying to ruin a good time. It's just for Christmas anymore. Has someone seen if Sarah Palin wants to write  a book on this?

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