This year, nearly 122 million Americans will join together in celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day. Celebrations range from wearing shamrock earrings; to choking down traditional Saint Patrick’s Day fare (Shamrock Shakes, of course!); to watching a parade, to swilling excessive amounts of green-tinted, macro-brewed American beer — in which case the “celebration” continues to be felt the next morning. Roughly 200,000 marchers will participate in New York’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade. The people of Chicago will dump 40 pounds of dye into the Chicago River to turn it green for the day (it’s debatable as to what color the river is “naturally”).
What is this all for?
Saint Patrick, of course!
The man known as Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britain around the year 387 CE. Pirates kidnapped him in or near the year 403 — when he was 16 — and took the young man to Ireland to serve as a shepherd. He escaped back to Britain after six years, but felt a call to return to the land of his captivity for the sake of reaching Irish natives for Christ. Allegedly, his efforts were wildly successful: One report states he baptized 12,000 people in a single day.
Patrick showed an ability to communicate deep spiritual ideas utilizing familiar items. In an attempt to describe the heady idea of the Trinity (the belief that God is experienced in three distinct forms: Father, Son and Holy Spirit), Patrick utilized an analogy with a three-leafed clover, or shamrock. He pointed out that the three leaves are distinct, but part of one plant. In another instance, Patrick noted the Irish natives celebrated the sun, so Patrick combined their familiar sun imagery with the cross to create the circular Celtic cross many of us are familiar with — or tattooed with — today.
Patrick introduced spiritual awareness utilizing everyday items. To think of this another way: The everyday became spiritual.
While our celebrations of Saint Patrick today seem devoid of spirituality (except for the Shamrock Shakes, of course), there are ways to adopt the heart of Saint Patrick to note some deep spiritual connections.
How can this be possible amidst all the loud parades and beer guzzling? Perhaps one aspect of a spiritual presence is witnessed in the very spirit that draws people together. Saint Patrick’s Day is noted as being the one day on which everyone is Irish. That spirit of unification could make it a day of reconciliation in bridging some of the proverbial fences we build between one another. It is one day in which we momentarily take steps toward becoming a united humanity. Just as Patrick reconciled with his former slave masters, we find ourselves reconciling with each other for the sake of celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s momentary, but it’s a step. It’s the kind of holy work discussed in Ephesians 2.
What about all the green on Saint Patrick’s Day? Certainly, it is the color of springtime, rebirth and new life. In witnessing the sea of green people on March 17, we are reminded that new life comes at the close of winter. In a season when so much has gone dormant or died, rebirth happens. We see green again after seeing white, brown and gray for so long. It is reminiscent of the new life experienced in a spiritual awakening. It reminds us that God is in the process of making all things new.
What other spiritual connections can you make with Saint Patrick’s Day traditions and celebrations? May you consider the possibilities as you down your next Shamrock Shake.