The history of St. Patrick’s Day

Photo by Bkkbrad via Wikimedia

Jennipher Schafer/Staff Writer

As an American of mostly Irish descent, I have very mixed feelings about St. Patrick’s Day. Most people ignore the roots of this holiday and instead have fun celebrating stereotypical Irish things. Some of these even I look forward to. Who doesn’t love potatoes in every possible form and green beverages? Alright, maybe that’s just me.

The main issue I take against the holiday isn’t the use of these stereotypes or perpetuation of the image of the drunken Irish population, I take issue with the actual roots of the holiday. As a Wiccan, the very conception of the holiday is marred with an ugly past many either do not realize or sadly choose to ignore.

The alleged history of the holiday began with a Catholic missionary and bishop in Ireland. The legend says that he successfully drove all the snakes from the island nation. Similarly, he is credited with mass conversions of the pagan people who lived there before the Christian invasion.

The reality is that snakes have never really been a problem in Ireland. Snakes were, however, a symbol to the pagan populations of Celtic and Druidic people. What was essentially accomplished by this man and those acting in his name, was the slaughter of anyone who would not convert and the death of older traditions and culture. As a modern pagan celebrating my ancestry, this is in direct contradiction with the principles of my faith and ancestral pride.

There is a growing movement among Wiccans, even those of Irish descent, to boycott the international holiday. I, however, have mixed feelings about this.

Yes, the holiday was born out of barbarism and ignorance.  It even glosses over genocide, not only of people, but of their culture. This holiday borrows from the very thing it tried to destroy, as do many other Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter.

Things like the wearing of green, eating pork and the image of the shamrock were all associated with the vernal equinox, also known as the spring equinox. These are still used in the celebration known as Ostara. The shamrock is particularly important to an Irish Wiccan such as me as it is a symbol for the Triple Goddess with the three clove-like leaves.

I can’t ignore the stereotypes either.  Over ten days in England with my family, my red hair and freckled skin received eye-rolling and rude replies of “naturally” or “of course you would” from the wait staff whenever I ordered an alcoholic drink.

Before this gets out of hand, I’m not blaming modern Christians for the wrongs done hundreds of years ago; that is pointless. What I am getting at is the opportunity to grow and learn from one another as we celebrate all things Irish.

I enjoy the one day a year when my heritage is celebrated even if it isn’t always very accurate. Il enjoy wearing green and eating traditional foods. Moreover I enjoy educating people on actual Irish history.

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