I knew the story of St. Patrick was important when VeggieTales used a human to depict St. Patrick instead of their signature actor- a vegetable in their retelling of his life and ministry. He is the patron saint of a nation and a man whose life is rich with adventure and wonders.
And you don’t need to watch VeggieTales to learn about it all. One of the well-known legends is about driving all the snakes out of Ireland for good. As a child from Texas, I really held a grudge that this could not happen in the Hill Country.
St. Patrick lived a life committed to God, connecting the natural beauty of the world around him to the divinity of God, and even returning to the country of his enslavement to share the good news. Reminding his audience that a living God was at work in them.
He was known to make the elite and powerful angry, making the rich give up their possessions, and refusing to take payments for performing rites. A life worth celebrating centuries later indeed.
Many around the world observe St. Patrick’s feast day from Ireland to Japan, city halls, rivers, and beer runs Kelly green in honor of a man committed to the work of the gospel.
Centuries later, scientists have now proven that maybe the whole snake exodus was more of a folktale about eels. Scholars now wonder if St. Patrick’s account of kidnapping was perhaps his excuse to escape the Roman equivalent of government service required by royal and royal-adjacent families.
Knowing that these could very well be true, does it change the power of his legacy? Does it change the testament to his love for the people of Ireland? Does it change the resilience and tenacity of the Irish people through oppression and tribulation?
I don’t think it does. But will it change how we observe his feast day moving forward?
St. Patrick preached against idol worship and greed and centuries later, the holiday has taken on a new identity. This is not to judge anyone who observes with a Guinness or two or three.
I love novelty beer and a reason to wear green. But what do we lose when we erase a history of struggle and strength and boil it down to offensive costumes and beer?
How has assimilation taken away from the richness of St. Patrick’s Day? I ask as a Mexican American woman who dreads the fifth day of May every year.
St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo are holidays observed under the guise of inclusion but serve as a tool to caricaturize a culture and its people. But, in truth, they are both symbols of resistance and determination.
Let us not be satisfied with cheap and offensive explanations that dismiss culture and history. But let us celebrate the legend of a person who came from money and power and rejected it all to work and live alongside a people who gave him refuge all while condemning those who sought to keep wealth and resources to themselves. This is something worth drinking a Guinness or two for.