St. Patrick’s Day


Erin Shetler, Author

When people initially think about St. Patrick’s Day many think about bars being filled, people getting pinched if they don’t wear green, and Irish flags flying high. But how did this holiday start? And what defines St. Patrick’s Day?

Unlike Valentine’s Day, the origins of St. Patrick’s Day are certain. St. Patrick was actually born with the name Maewyn Succat. He later changed his name when he became a priest. This was because Patrick roots from “father figure” in Latin. When he was 16, Irish raiders came into his English village and kept him, prisoner, as they traveled back to Ireland. Patrick was held captive for six long years, although nobody is certain exactly where he was imprisoned. During these six years of his life, he worked outdoors as a shepherd and herdsman. Patrick became lonely and afraid so he began praying, asking God for guidance. One day, he had a vision telling him to escape Ireland And so, he walked 200 miles to a boat and returned to Great Britain. Once he returned, he renamed himself Patrick and joined the priesthood. Determined to spread the word of God and his faith, he traveled back to Ireland to broadcast his beliefs.

There have been many legends and stories about St. Patrick, although sometimes it can be hard to tell which ones actually happened.  One of the legends about St. Patrick is the story of how there are no snakes in Ireland. The snakes living in Ireland were causing harm and unease to the people who lived there, so Patrick forced every last snake out of the country. In reality, Ireland’s environment just isn’t suited to snakes, but St. Patrick’s legends still take the credit. 

Another legend is about when Patrick explained the Holy Trinity through a shamrock. The Holy Trinity is a Christian idea that God is represented in three forms: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The people to whom Patrick was preaching were confused as to how God can be all three beings. Patrick picked up a shamrock beside him and explained to the crowd that there were three leaves on the shamrock, but you wouldn’t call it three shamrocks, it would just be a single shamrock just as the Holy Trinity is the one, God.

Throughout the years that St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated, there have been various symbols to represent the holiday. The most popular include leprechauns, harps, shamrocks, clovers, and the Claddagh ring. In Irish folklore, leprechauns were a kind of trickster fairy. They were often shoe-makers or cobblers, but people shouldn’t be fooled by their honest work. If somebody was to catch a leprechaun, they would be granted three wishes. However, they were known to have made the worst out of wishes. For example, if someone wished for “a thousand bucks” they may wake up with a thousand male deer around them. The harp is also a very important symbol of Ireland. Harps can be found on Irish euros, in music, on the Kingdom of Ireland flag, and also in paintings. During the medieval period, harps were banned because people believed that harpists were spies. However, the image of the harp prevailed and continued to remain a big symbol of Ireland. 

Another popular symbol of Ireland is the shamrock. Many get confused between a shamrock and a clover and say that the clover is a symbol of Ireland. Simply put, all shamrocks are clovers but not all clovers are shamrocks. A shamrock is “a low-growing clover-like plant with three-lobed leaves, used as the national emblem of Ireland”. A clover is “a herbaceous plant of the pea family that has dense, globular flower heads, and leaves that are typically three-lobed. It is an important and widely grown fodder and rotational crop”. 

The Claddagh ring is also a very important symbol in Ireland. This, unlike the other symbols, doesn’t represent Ireland but instead originates from Ireland. The Claddagh ring as a whole represents loyalty, friendship, and love. The ring is made up of three parts: the hands, the crown, and the heart. The hands represent friendship; the crown represents loyalty, and the heart represents love. The Claddagh ring does have rules on how you can wear it. If you are single, you would wear it on your right hand with the heart facing away from you (seen to you that the heart is upside down). If you are in a relationship, then it would be on your right hand but with the heart facing towards you (seen that the heart in your perspective is right-side up). If you are engaged then you would wear it on your left hand with the heart facing away from you. Lastly, if you are married, then it would be worn on your left hand, facing towards you.

Celtic knots are a very important part of Irish culture that can still be seen everywhere today. There are six main types of knots including the trinity knot, the spiral knot, love knots, shield knot, and Solomon’s knot. The trinity knot is a religious symbol that represents the “Father”, the “Son”, and the “Holy Spirit”. It is also believed to represent the elements earth, wind, and fire, although it is mainly used to show the Holy Trinity. The spiral knot or the triskeles knot represented movement and change. The love knot, as its name suggests, represents love. It is often depicted as two segments forming two intertwined hearts, showing the bond that love has. Next is the shield knot which represents protection, safety, and healing. It was often placed near ill people to ward off evil spirits or danger. Lastly is Solomon’s knot which symbolized the unity of man, although it may go back further than the celts.

St. Patrick’s Day is a fun, exciting holiday, and I hope that everybody has a great 2021 St. Patrick’s Day!