Unsung Holidays: St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2023

Celebrations, holidays, traditions. Many memories attach themselves to special moments outside the daily rhythms of ordinary life. Often connected with food, smells, stories, and participation, how and what do you pause to celebrate? Maybe some of these “Unsung Holidays” will inspire you to gather people, create a new memory, and celebrate a beauty within God’s world.

Growing up, I know about my Irish heritage, but I didn’t feel particularly connected to Ireland. The only day I felt Irish was on St. Patrick’s Day. When March 17 rolled around, my mother made corned beef and cabbage, and my sisters and I dressed in green to keep those with pinching fingers at bay. It was fun, a nice way to break up the rainy dreariness of March in St. Louis. 

What I didn’t know at the time was that St. Patrick was a real person—a fifth century missionary, in fact, who felt called to Ireland to convert the Irish to Catholicism. According to tradition, St. Patrick was kidnapped by pirates when he was a teenager and sent to Ireland as a slave before escaping home to Britain. He later became a cleric (a priest or religious leader) and chose to return to Ireland, where he baptized thousands of people and was said to have confronted the Druids, priests of ancient Celtic paganism. 

One of the well-known legends about St. Patrick is how he used a shamrock, a three-leafed clover, to explain the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The clover includes three leaves but is one part – similar to God in three persons. 

After St. Patrick passed away, he was named the patron saint of Ireland and the namesake of his own holiday.

Although some people go to church on St. Patrick’s Day, the holiday is mostly known for drinking, debauchery, and bad Irish stereotypes. For those who celebrate Lent, St. Patrick’s Day is a day off, which makes it a great time to imbibe. In some cities, there are parades, festivals, and pub crawls; the city of Chicago even dyes the Chicago River green to commemorate the holiday.

When I think of St. Patrick’s Day, I don’t think of day drinking or “kiss me, I’m Irish” T-shirts. I think of my beloved great-grandmother, Rosemary Ellis, who had a quick wit and a strong mind well into her 90s. I think of her grandparents and their decision to leave Ireland behind and come to the United States. 

Sometimes as a teenager when I didn’t feel like participating in St. Patrick’s Day, I’d say, “I don’t need to wear green because my eyes are green!” This St. Patrick’s Day, though, I plan to wear green. I’ll try out a baked corn beef recipe with roasted potatoes and purple cabbage. I’ll pull out some old family photos to look through. Maybe my toddler son and I will draw three-leafed clovers and talk about what the clover symbolizes. 

Not your typical way of remembering St. Patrick’s Day, but for me, it’s a great way to reflect on my family’s history, enjoy a hearty meal, and pray that spring greenery will finally make its way to snowy Iowa. 

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  1. Sarah, I too am Irish. However I knew about St. Patrick’s work in Ireland and was thankful for him for introducing the gospel to them. Maybe that was because I went to a Catholic school for my elementary grades. I grew up in New Jersey and our town was full of Catholic school kids and public school kids and I falsely separated them along faith line. Of course that was not true but I did side with the Catholic schools kids who knew the gospel. I know the Protestant kids do the same things with Catholic kids-excluding them. We are of the same faith and should speak and act that way.

  2. I too am Irish just a wee bit! We went to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Shamrock, Tx when I was a child and I always wore green on this day and I still do! And I always make a corned beef dinner to celebrate! I have always loved this holiday as it comes in dreary March! I visited Ireland – truly a beautiful country☘️☘️And I love the history of St.Patrick.

  3. This is a great summary of your heritage and experiences–thanks! You did remind me of my own bit of Irish heritage. My grandfather never let my mother wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, only orange, because our distant Irish ancestors were part of the “Orange Men,” and he never wanted her to forget it. Today I will be wearing both orange and green to remember him a bit.