by Maranda Vilsack
As St. Patrick’s Day nears America is preparing to meet with friends and drink green beer while wearing the traditional “Kiss Me, I’m Irish!” t-shirts in celebration of… what exactly? Are we celebrating being Irish or the triumph of one army over another? Maybe it has something to do with Leprechauns or shamrocks?
Incorrect. Okay, so not many know what St. Patrick’s Day is actually about. This is not surprising since the meaning behind a holiday is often warped into something unrecognizable over the centuries. St. Patrick’s Day is actually a celebration of when Saint Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland in and was declared an official Christian feast day in the early 17th century and is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (especially the Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Lutheran Church. March 17th is the traditionally recognized death day of the actual Saint Patrick.
St. Patrick’s Day has only been present in America since the late 18th century.
What many are unaware of is that Saint Patrick was not born an Irishman and that his name wasn’t even Patrick. Patrick is the English version of his actual name, Patricius. He was actually born in the early 5th century in Roman Britain, which was later known as Great Britain. At the age of 16 Patricius, along with thousands of his fellow Britains, were kidnapped by Irish pirates during raids on the west coast of Roman Britain and taken to Ireland as slaves. Patricius was able to escape and return home after 6 years of servitude and later returned to Ireland on a mission to convert those in power to Christianity and possibly to halt the raids of the Irish pirates that had taken him years before.
In one of the few surviving writings by Patricius, in his “Letter to Coroticus,” he expressed a deep concern for the victims of slaving; especially women captured for sexual exploitation.
Perhaps this was due to his own personal experiences as a slave and his most likely witnessing the horrors that can bestow a person taken into human slavery.
But Particius’ story is not only one of Christian missionary work, although that is the basis of the holiday. No, his story is one of survival and perseverance. Patricius spent years in slavery and somehow found his way out and eventually became the patron saint of an entire country. His belief that slavery was immoral was something that pushed him to return to the country he had once fled in order to work for the freedom of those still forced into servitude.
So this St. Patrick’s Day don’t just celebrate Irish heritage, celebrate a man who fought for the freedom of others.