Is Saint Patrick’s Day a Religious Holiday?

Is Saint Patrick’s Day a Religious Holiday?

Clover leaves. Leprechauns. Green beer. Corned beef and cabbage. “Kiss me: I’m Irish!”

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day, and the holiday will be marked by events and festivals that generally celebrate the Irish culture. Such festivities will include grand parades, dancing and singing, lots of people flocking to bars, fun and unique foods, and everything dyed, painted or decorated green.

Most of us recognize Saint Paddy’s for these secular traditions, which begs the question: Is this a religious holiday or not? Well, if it’s not now, it used to be.

Saint Patrick’s Day is named after Saint Patrick, a fifth-century missionary who is the national apostle and patron saint of Ireland. The day marks what is believed to be the anniversary of his death in the year 461.

Saint Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to the people of Ireland, and since his holiday coincides with the Christian season of Lent, it is celebrated as a feast day—an ideal opportunity for people to break from the pious Lenten observances of weeks-long fasting and general abstinence.

Of course, Saint Patrick’s life has become legendary as the centuries have passed, and certain myths have naturally crept in and have been perpetuated over time. Chief among them are the ideas that he used a three-leaf clover to explain the Holy Trinity and that he rid the Emerald Isle of snakes.

But sometimes the truth is more surprising than fiction. First of all, Saint Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was born in Great Britain, supposedly enslaved and taken to Ireland, fled to England, then returned to Ireland later in life. As for the snakes? Ireland is simply a cold, isolated island that was devoid of the slithering creatures long before Saint Patrick’s arrival.

Now, back to the question of religion. While most of us enjoy Saint Patrick’s Day as a cultural-yet-secular celebration of all things Irish, even abroad here in the U.S., there are religions and churches that observe the day in holy fashion. Many Roman Catholics mark the day by attending mass or other services. Technically it has been, is and likely always will be a Christian observance.

But honestly, anywhere you go nowadays, Saint Patrick’s Day is more raucous than religious. There are more parties than prayers. Let’s face it: Most observances around the world just center around pub crawls.

Oh, and in Ireland it’s all about bacon and cabbage. Sorry corned beef lovers.