Question: "Who was Saint Patrick and why do we celebrate St. Patrick's Day?"
Answer: The man eventually canonized as Saint Patrick by the Catholic Church was born to a wealthy family in AD 387 in Kilpatrick, Scotland. His real name was Maewyn Succat. It was his extensive missionary work in Ireland for which he is famous. During the thirty years of work there he supposedly converted over 135,000 people, established 300 churches, and consecrated 350 bishops. He died on March 17, 461.
History records that Saint Patrick, at age sixteen, was captured by Celtic raiders and spent several years as a slave in Ireland. It was during this time that he learned the various rituals, customs, and language of Celtic Druids. It was these people that he eventually converted to Catholicism. He apparently had a dream in which God spoke to him saying, “Your ship is ready.” Saint Patrick was then able to escape by ship back to Britain. Shortly thereafter, he experienced another dream in which he received a letter which claimed to be the “voice of the Irish.” When he opened it, he heard the voices of all those who he had met in Ireland begging him to return.
Saint Patrick then began a course of study to become ordained a bishop in the Catholic Church and returned to Ireland to establish the church. Though the task was difficult and dangerous, he persisted and was able to build a strong foundation for Christianity. The Irish people were receptive to his teachings, especially in light of the fact that he was able to take several of their Celtic symbols and Christianize them. The most prominent of these is the green shamrock, a certain type of clover. He used this plant, which was held sacred by the Druids, as a symbol of the Trinity. Additionally, Saint Patrick was instrumental in bringing alcohol to Ireland, which eventually had a significant impact upon the Irish culture.
Each year millions of people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It is a national holiday in Ireland when people do not work, but observe it in worship and family gatherings. In the United States, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in New York on March 17, 1762. It consisted largely of Irish soldiers. Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by wearing green, which symbolizes the return of spring as well as the Irish culture. Also prominent in this celebration is green beer, pointing back to Saint Patrick’s introduction of alcohol to Ireland.
What started as a Catholic holiday became an official feast day in the 17th century. Since then, it has become a secular celebration of the Irish culture. Neither Saint Patrick nor St. Patrick’s Day is mentioned in Scripture. While we would strongly disagree of some of the aspects of Catholic theology that St. Patrick taught, the fact that around 1,600 years ago a man dedicated his life to proclaiming the gospel, resulting in tens of thousands coming to faith in Christ, is most definitely worth celebrating (Luke 15:7–10).