Have you ever wondered why we dress up in green and get blackout drunk every year to celebrate an Irish saint? As with most of our holidays, the answer involves a little bit of history, a little bit of mystery, and a fair amount of bullshit. The cool thing about Patrick is that we have some of his letters that survived from around 400 A.D.-ish. One is the Confessio (confession) he wrote shortly before his death. Although “confession” in regards to his letter is more him confessing his love for God than getting some shit off his chest. He also wrote a strongly worded “Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus”, admonishing a group of heathens for killing a bunch of his fellow Christians and stealing all their shit. Both of those are quick reads so you ought to check them out. Mostly because Patrick sounds a lot like Donald Trump when he’s writing about himself. He’s like, “I’m so humble folks. Don’t ever forget it. I have done so many good deeds…so many you wouldn’t believe, and they are great miracles, believe me. I also baptized so many people, thousands even. Probably more than anyone else!”
Patrick also spends an interesting amount of time claiming he never accepted bribes or payment for baptizing folks, which kinda makes me think he did. No collusion folks! Totally honest.
Anyway, Saint Patrick isn’t a saint at all. He was never officially canonized by the Catholic Church, but he was so popular people just made him into a saint. Allegedly, Patrick’s real name is Maewyn Succatt. He changed it to Patricius after joining the priesthood because it means “Father Figure.” Although, I couldn’t find any convincing evidence that his name was actually Maewyn. It appears to be some bro-science shit where someone said it a long time ago and it just got repeated until it was accepted as truth.
Ole Patty was born in Britain somewhere in the neighborhood of 380 A.D. According to Pat, he was kidnapped by Irish marauders at the age of 16. He spent six years as a goat herding slave in Ireland until one day the Lord Almighty spoke to him and said there was a boat waiting to take him home. So, he goes to the beach and follows it until he finds the boat God spoke to him about…200 miles away. This might just be the skeptic in me but that doesn’t sound very miraculous. If you walk two hundred miles down the coast and you’re gonna find a boat. When Patrick tries to come on board the captain tells him to fuck off. In Patrick’s writing he mentions that the captain wanted him to “Suck his breasts,” but Patrick was like “I ain’t gonna do that.” but then God changes the captain’s mind so he lets Patrick on board without any gay titty sucking. I have no fucking clue what that’s about but I think Patrick sucked on some titties for a ride home. They wind up making a pit-stop in France and get lost in the woods for a month or two. After almost starving to death God sends Patrick a herd of pigs so everybody is all, “oh man, that dude is like magic, and shit.” Eventually Patrick makes it home to England and joins the church.
After Patrick graduates from priest school he asks the Pope to send him back to Ireland because God wants him to save the pagans. Pope Celestine I had already sent a Bishop to Ireland to do that named Palladius but he’s like, “Whatever. Knock yourself out.” It is believed that at least some of the good work Patrick got credit for was actually Palladius’. Patrick’s big claim to fame is driving all the snakes out of Ireland. This is a stupid claim because snakes do not and have not, ever, lived in Ireland. Some people say it is a metaphor for driving away the druids, but priests back then weren’t big on metaphors. They were big on miracles though. There’s really no way to know if the snake story was a tall tale or a metaphor, but Patrick also claimed he brought around 30 people back from the dead, some who had been dead for years. So I’m going to guess he noticed there weren’t any snakes so he was like, “Hey Ya’ll, I got rid of all the snakes. You’re welcome motherfuckers.” Then, you have the story about converting pagans by using a shamrock to explain the holy trinity. That story has always bothered me. Like, people are going to forsake their ancient gods because some stranger walks up and is like, “Check out this piece of grass! My god is part man, part god, and also a fuckin ghost.”
Alright, lets get to the party.
Saint Patrick supposedly died on March 17th 461 A.D. I couldn’t find exactly how he died, but it was from natural causes and not martyrdom. The thing that made Saint Patrick stand out above the rest of the 10k or so other saints and their respective feasts and holidays is that March 17th falls during Lent, where good Catholics give up things like meat and alcohol for 40 days. People were given a hall pass on St. P-Day for his feast. Of course, instead of people saying, “Jolly well then. I think I’ll be having a ham sandwich for dinner tonight,” they were like, “I got kids and mamma hasn’t had her wine in weeks. Give me that bottle or I will cut you! So help me Jesus.”
Hall pass and hometown saint pride aside, March 17th wasn’t historically that big of a deal on the Emerald Isle. The color blue was originally associated with Saint Patrick. The problem with blue started in 1542 when King Henry VIII split with the Catholic Church to create the Church of England. See, it was a fact of life that Western powers at the time got to have their kings, queens, and whatnots, but everyone knew the Pope really ran shit. When Henry split with the church he was like, “This my country bitch, and I’m taking Ireland with me.” Then, just to make it official, Henry gave Ireland a new flag, with a blue background and a gold harp, cause you know; nothing involving land is official in England without a flag. During the tug of war between Catholics and Protestants controlling the government during the Protestant Reformation, at one point in 1695 when the Protestants were in control, they banned all saint’s feast days and replaced them with Protestant celebrations.
In 1798 Catholics and Presbyterians started a civil war to take Ireland back from British control, which just so happened to also be a sectarian war between Catholics and Protestants. Long story short, because that’s a LOOOOOONNNG fucking story: Blue was associated with the Crown so Irish forces wore green. Green became the new blue and the Irish took Saint Patrick along for the ride. So basically, you get pinched on Saint Patrick’s Day for not wearing Green because of a civil war in 1798.
The first Saint Patrick’s Day in America is widely believed to be an impromptu parade in Boston by an Irish regiment of the Army in 1737. It was in actually in 1600, in Florida. Irish immigrants at a Spanish outpost used Patrick as their patron saint of corn and had a parade for him.
Anyway, the Protestants in Ireland didn’t give a fuck about Patrick and the Catholics were too busy shooting at the Protestants to make much of a fuss about him for the next 200 years. However, Irish immigrants who came to America started caring more about St. P because he was something special from the old country they could hold onto. It’s like how an American could go six months without even thinking about a hamburger, but if they go on vacation to another country, in three days they’ll be scouring the horizon for signs of hamburgers like a dying man lost in the desert. Humans are just like that.
When the Irish started washing up on American soil during the Potato Famine of 1845 they were not given a warm welcome. But, as their numbers grew their votes became influential in elections. Slowly, politicians started catering to their cultural sensibilities, such as Saint Patrick Day Parades.
Back in Ireland, all the pubs were closed on Saint Patrick’s Day because the government was worried people might take that Lent hall-pass too far and get rowdy. Also, because fuck the Catholics. The only place you could buy a beer on March 17th was the Royal Dublin Dog Show. Can you guess how many people became dog lovers every year? That’s right. All of them. It wasn’t until 1961 that pubs were allowed open on St. P-Day in Ireland. It wasn’t until 1995 that Ireland got tired of seeing all the missed tourism dollars from drunk Americans celebrating Irish holidays that they decided, “Maybe we should have a parade too.”
So on March 17th:
We drink because of Lent
We wear Green because of a civil war
And we have parades because of homesick immigrants
Here it is. Your moment of Zen.