St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland.
“His feast day on 17 March is a religious, public and patriotic holiday in Ireland and is celebrated with flamboyance among the Irish diaspora abroad,” according to IrelandsEye.com.
In the United States, St. Patrick’s Day is not a legal holiday, but it is nationally observed.
“It is a celebration of Irish-American roots and a day of social leveling, when we can all be ‘Irish,'” wrote Jack Santino in All Around the Year. It’s “a day of green at the beginning of spring.”
In fact, St. Patrick’s Day is always celebrated on March 17, just a few days from the spring equinox.
St. Patrick, whose actual life remains shrouded in mystery, is credited with spreading Christianity to the Irish in the fifth century.
“Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs,” according to HistoryChannel.com.
St. Patrick used bonfires, part of druidical ritual, to celebrate Easter. He also combined the sun, another potent symbol to the druids, with the cross, to form what is now the Celtic Cross.
“Here we have an example of a missionary redefining traditional symbols and customs in Christian terms,” wrote Santino. “Patrick (and the other missionaries) redefined the symbols and customs of the traditional Irish religion.”
Patrick also used the shamrock to convey the Christian faith.
“Preaching in the open air on the doctrine of the trinity, he is said to have illustrated the existence of the Three in One by plucking a shamrock from the grass growing at his feet and showing it to his congregation,” according to www.st-patricks-day.com.
The shamrock, of course, is one plant composed of three leaves.
“This legend about Patrick probably arose after the fact, to justify the special esteem for the shamrock in a Christian context,” wrote Santino.
Nevertheless, in The Celtic Way of Evangelism, George G. Hunter discussed the Irish obsession with the significance of numbers.
“The Irish also believed that some numbers were significant; the number three was especially powerful, and their characteristic way of structuring thought about complex matters was [a triad],” Hunter wrote. “The doctrine of the Trinity became the foundational paradigm for Celtic Christianity.”
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.