Saint Patrick's Day 2015: The Inspiring Christian History Behind the Holiday

( [email protected] ) Mar 17, 2015 01:56 PM EDT
While St. Patrick's Day is typically associated with green clothing, shamrocks and parades, the holiday actually holds a rich Christian history.
The color green has been associated with Ireland since at least the 1640s, when the green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation.

When most people think of St. Patrick's Day, images of shamrocks, parades, and various Irish celebrations come to mind. However, the holiday, which takes place on the 17th of March every year, actually holds deeply religious origins, dating back to the 17th century.

St. Patrick, whom the holiday is aptly named after, was actually born in Britain in 390 A.D. Although raised in a Christian family, Patrick held almost no interest in God, according to the History Channel.

When he was 16 years old, Patrick was kidnapped by robbers and taken hostage on a ship to Ireland. For the next six years, Patrick was held as a slave in the hills of Ireland, forced to tend sheep. Lost and alone, the teen cried out to God, begging for deliverance.

"The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same," he wrote, according to Catholic Online. "I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain."

After escaping at the age of twenty and returning to Britain, Patrick joined the priesthood, and eventually became a bishop. However, in a dream, Patrick saw Irish children pleading with him to bring the Gospel to them, causing his heart to long to return to his former captors and share with them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Despite fierce opposition, Patrick returned to Ireland, successfully sharing the Gospel among the mainly pagan and Druid population. In addition to bringing thousands of people to Christ, Patrick is credited building a church on the site of the present day St. Patrick's Memorial Church in Saul -- the first ever Christian church in all of Ireland. At the time of his death on March 17, Patrick was recognized as Ireland's foremost saint.

In the 17th century, Saint Patrick's Day was made an official Christian feast day by the Catholic Church to commemorate the arrival of Christianity in Ireland and to celebrate the country's heritage.Today, many Christians observe the holiday by attending church services or going to mass in memory of the selfless work of St. Patrick.

Others observe the holiday by wearing orange and green, eating cabbage and corned beef, and attending the many St. Patrick's Day parades held around the world.

Over the following centuries, many legends and stories have grown around St. Patrick. According to one legend, St. Patrick used the shamrock-often associated with St. Patrick's Day--as a way of explaining the Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Another popular legend claims that he drove the snakes from Ireland. 

As you enjoy time with family and friends this Saint Patrick's Day, take a moment to reflect on the selfless work of the holiday's namesake, and his Christ-like dedication to sharing the Gospel with those who formerly persecuted him.