Each of the four countries that compose the United Kingdom have their own national saint. England has Saint George, (23rd April), Scotland Saint Andrew, (30th November), Wales Saint David (1st March) and Ireland Saint Patrick, (17th March).
St. Patrick’s Day is the saint’s religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. During Lent, Irish families traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people could dance, drink and feast on a traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.
Many of the stories traditionally associated with St. Patrick, including the famous account of his banishing all the snakes from Ireland, are false, the products of centuries of exaggerated storytelling.
Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs: he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honouring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish.
Though there were a small number of Christians on the island when Patrick arrived, most of the indigeous Irish practiced a nature-based pagan religion. The Irish culture centred around a rich tradition of oral legend and myth. When this is considered, it is no surprise that the story of Patrick’s life became exaggerated over the centuries!
Spinning exciting tales to remember history has always been a part of the Irish way of life!