St. Patrick’s Day Surprises, and a Solemn Prayer

St. Patrick’s Day is the most widely celebrated saint’s day in the world.  Most of the coverage surrounding this unique holiday – at least here in the U.S. – focuses on revelers wearing green, drinking Guinness beer, eating corned beef and cabbage, and attending leprechaun-themed parades.

More than 100 St. Patrick's Day parades are held across the United States; New York City and Boston are home to the largest celebrations.

There are 36.5 million U.S. residents who claim Irish ancestry, which is more than eight times the population of Ireland itself (4.5 million).  This festive occasion – which was originally recognized by Catholic leaders with “great solemnity” –  has now become a general celebration of Irish culture and, for most people, a fun excuse to dress up and party with friends and family.

But did you know that Patrick wasn’t technically a saint (he was never canonized by the Roman Catholic Church)?  He wasn’t even Irish (he was a Roman-Britain who spoke Latin and a bit of Welsh)?  And – get this –  Patrick’s color wasn’t green (it was – gasp – blue!)?

I’m not trying to rain on any parades here, but I do find it fascinating to explore the origins of holidays and see how the celebrations have changed over the years.

A couple of years ago, TIME Magazine did a feature called “10 Things You Didn’t Know About St. Patrick’s Day.”  They take a look at some of the lesser-known facts about the world’s favorite Irish holiday, tackling everything from the shamrock to the Blarney Stone.

On March 17, 461 A.D., Saint Patrick, Christian missionary, bishop and apostle of Ireland, died at Saul, Downpatrick.

The History Channel also has a wealth of resources related to St. Patrick’s Day, exploring the holiday’s symbols and traditions as well as celebrations around the world.

Finally, in my brief research on St. Patrick’s Day, I came across this beautiful prayer called “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate.”  There are many translations of this hymn as well as controversy regarding its origin (its Old Irish lyrics were traditionally attributed to Patrick during his Irish ministry in the 5th century, but most scholars assert that it was likely written later, in the 8th century).  One verse reads:


I bind unto myself today

The power of God to hold and lead,

His eye to watch, His might to stay,

His ear to hearken to my need.

The wisdom of my God to teach,

His hand to guide, His shield to ward,

The word of God to give me speech,

His heavenly host to be my guard.

Regardless of its origin and affiliation to Saint Patrick, I was blessed by the contents are hope you are as well.

"May your thoughts be as glad as the shamrocks, May your heart be as light as a song, May each day bring you bright, happy hours, That stay with you all the year long." ~ Irish Blessing

In our society where everyone is itching for another reason to party, I think it can be meaningful to look beyond the surface and use each instance as an opportunity to learn and teach your kids about the history and culture behind each celebration.  On that note, I hope y’all are enjoying celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and wearing your green… and maybe even acting Irish for a day!

What Top 5 Attributes Do You Want to Pass On?
Humans and Kings
Dealing with Disappointment
Can You Take the Heat?
  • Susan @

    Love this!
    Wrote a post about my efforts to put a little St Patrick (history) into my kids’ St Patty’s Day at
    Glad (for next year) to learn that the color was actually blue… Good to know.

  • Jackie F

    Just a little clarification for your story:
    1) St. Patrick’s Day is considered a Feast day in the Roman Catholic Church, not a day of solemn prayer or fasting day.
    2) St. Patrick is considered a patron saint of Ireland because he brought Chritianity to the Irish (Celts & Druids)
    3) I am a direct descendant of an Irish Catholic family that came to America because of the potato famine – a LOT of Irish Catholic families came due to the famine, with ALL of their Irish Catholic children – the rest stayed & starved – hence the reason there are more Irish here than in the Mother country.
    4) Irish Catholics are “Republican” or southern Irish, which is why we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day…. The orange represent northern or Protestant Ireland. It has nothing to do with what color St. Patrick actually wore.
    5) Still doing research on your point of canonization. This is the first time I’ve ever heard this.

    Now, this is not to say that people take it too far – just an excuse to go out & get crazy…. We Catholics pray & attend mass in celebration of the feast & then properly, well, celebrate the feast!!

    In closing:
    May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow & the love of St. Patrick follow wherever you go…. Slainte!!

  • Teresa Kurth

    I don’t know where you are getting your sources that Saint Patrick was never canonized by the Church but as a student of theology and a member of a Dominican parish named after St. Patrick, I can assure you the Church absolutely recognizes St. Patrick as a canonized saint. Yes, the procedue has changed throughout the years (Saint Peter was not canonized in the same way that Saint Pio was just canonized in the past 30 yrs, but that doesn’t mean he is not a saint!), but the validity of his canonization and the Church’s declaration that he is assuredly in Heaven has not changed!