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The Meaning behind Saint Patrick’s Day



Celtic History Newsletter

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The Celtic Croft and MacGregor Historic Games

The Meaning behind St. Patrick’s Day

Not intending to ruin any fun with history but we couldn’t let the upcoming Holiday go without making a few comments about Saint Patrick and the annual holiday that’s held in his honor. Most of the people we know will be wearing green in some form, thinking of all things Irish, drinking green beer, and possibly honoring that ancient Irish tradition of getting drunk and fighting (We love our Irish Patrons so merely tongue and cheek). In other words, Saint Patrick’s Day is a good excuse for partying, and few people will put any more thought into it than that. That’s fine. It’s a secular holiday in the United States, much like Christmas, that has only the vaguest hints of its religious underpinnings still intact, even if the day is named after a Roman-British Catholic bishop and missionary, and so it should all be taken with a grain of salt. Go forth and party. Have a good time. Build for yourself the pending hangover as that’s what it’s all about, right?

If most people know anything about Saint Patrick, it’s that his one claim to fame is that he drove the snakes from Ireland. What most people don’t realize is that the snake is a Pagan symbol, and that the snakes referred to in the Saint Patrick myths are not meant in the literal sense, but refer to Pagans; i.e., Saint Patrick drove the Pagans (specifically, the Celts) out of Ireland (although it could be said, and has been argued, that much has been done in Saint Patrick’s name, but that the man himself was relatively unimportant). So what is celebrated on Saint Patrick’s Day with drinking and much cavorting is, ironically, the spread of Christianity throughout Ireland and the subjugation and conversion of the Celts.

Roman-British Catholic Bishop and Missionary
Roman-British Catholic Bishop and Missionary

It wasn’t arbitrary that the day honoring Saint Patrick was placed on the 17th of March. The festival was designed to coincide, and, it was hoped, to replace the Pagan holiday known as Ostara; the second spring festival which occurs each year, which celebrates the rebirth of nature, the balance of the universe when the day and night are equal in length, and which takes place at the Spring Equinox (March 20th in 2015). In other words, Saint Patrick’s Day is yet another Christian replacement for a much older, ancient Pagan holiday; although generally speaking Ostara was most prominently replaced by the Christian celebration of Easter (the eggs and the bunny come from Ostara traditions, and the name “Easter” comes from the Pagan goddess Eostre).

What’s with the shamrock? Legend credits Saint Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Christian Trinity by showing people the shamrock, using it to highlight the Christian belief of “three divine persons in the one God”.

If celebrating on Saint Patrick’s Day; whether to celebrate your heritage, pretend to be Irish, or to just have an excuse to drink, it is fun to know some of the history and traditions behind the holiday!


Some Fun Customer Engagement over this recent piece. Due to the extreme brevity of our Newsletter piece, it was assumed that the piece be taken as a small snippet to elicit reflection and thought for the reader. Here are some comments to share:

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings – but I am perfectly happy to do so.  You need to stick to sewing skirts for men (kilts) and leave history to those better informed.” ~F. Vogel

“Nice read thank you!” ~S. MacFeyden

“Brief but get’s the highlights.”~D. O’Neill

Some fun intellectual information as well:

“Actually the whole Ostara/Eostre Easter story is peculiar to some of the Germanic languages, and in particular has nothing to do with the Celts or St. Patrick. In the Mediterranean region Easter had been observed from at least the 2nd century under the name Πάσχα (Greek) or Pascha (Latin). The spring date comes from the link to the Jewish Passover, which is consistent with the Greek and Latin names.

It may be that the early missionaries to the Germanic peoples used the name Easter to substitute for a pagan festival, but that was just applying a different name to something that they had been celebrating for a longer time previously. In fact, the story about Eostre comes from a Christian source, the Venerable Bede. He wrote:

“Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a        goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they              designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured              name of the old observance.” I.e. the pagan name was grafted onto the existing Paschal celebration.”

In the Celtic world we have Welsh Pasg, and Irish Cásca. My guess is that Cásca simply reflects the difference between P-Celtic and Q-Celtic languages, and so is likewise derived from Latin.” ~G. McDavid

Thank you all for engaging and making this a fun experience!

~The Celtic Croft





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