Saint Patrick’s Day: A celebration for all Americans
By Joe Olvera ©, 2012
Two guys are sitting inside an Irish pub drinking green beer. One is an Irish guy, the other is a Mexican guy.
Irish guy: Drink up, buddy, because, you know, Saturday is Saint Patrick’s Day.
Mexican guy: Saint Patrick? Is it already March 17? Wait a minute, isn’t Saint Patrick the man who rid Ireland of all its snakes?
Irish guy: Well, yes, and no. Yes, it’s already going to be March 17 on Saturday, and, no, he didn’t really rid Ireland of all its snakes. For your information, many people, especially religious ones, use the snakes as a metaphor. That is to say, when Saint Patrick began to evangelize about Christianity, there were many religions – Ireland was Polytheistic – which means there was the worship of many gods. Through the influence of Saint Patrick, Ireland became Catholic, or Christian, honoring only one God.
Mexican guy: Wait a minute. I’d heard that Saint Patrick did drive all the snakes out of Ireland. That he chased them into the sea after they had attacked him during a 40-day fast he was undergoing. Did he or didn’t he?
Irish guy: I already told you, the snake story is a metaphor. In other words, he drove other religions out of Ireland. In those days, pagan religions often used a snake as a symbol. No snake is known to have successfully migrated across the open ocean to their new home on dry land – Ireland’s. Despite the existence of the poisonous adder, there is no evidence that there were ever snakes in Ireland – hence, Saint Patrick did not, as folklore has it, banish the snakes from Ireland. He couldn’t have.
Mexican guy: So, tell me, why do we celebrate this guy, this saint? What’s so special about him?
Irish guy: The Irish in the United States have been here for a long time. Much like your Mexican ancestors, they brought to these shores their traditions and their culture. As you know, the United States is comprised of people from virtually every nation on earth – I believe there’s 137 nations represented here. Irish-Americans, much like your Mexican-Americans, celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day because he was a deity that transformed the Emerald Isle. Just as you Mexicans venerate La Virgen de Guadalupe – although she’s a Mexican icon – so do we Irish venerate Saint Patrick.
Mexican guy: Okay, I’ll give. So tell me more about this Saint Patrick guy. Who is he, where did he come from and why should everybody celebrate his birth?
Irish guy: In the first place, he wasn’t just a guy. He was a Saint. Legend tells us that he was born in the fourth century in Roman Britain to a wealthy Romano-British family. He was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken captive to Ireland as a slave. According to his confession, he was told by God in a dream to flee from captivity to the coast. In 432, he was called back to Ireland as a bishop to Christianize the heathen. Irish folklore tells us that he used the Shamrock, a three-pronged leaf to explain the Holy Trinity that includes in Catholic theology the existence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. After evangelizing for 30 years, he died on March 17.
Mexican guy: So, in essence, we are not celebrating his birth, but, his death – March 17? Why do Mexicans and other ethnic groups also celebrate? We’re not Irish.
Irish guy: For some strange reason, everybody wants to be Irish on that special day. Here, in El Paso, we celebrate by drinking green beer, by holding parades, and by going to church. Catholics aren’t the only ones who honor the Saint. Other religions include the American Communion, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church. Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official feast day in the early 17th century, and has quickly become a secular celebration by Irish culture in the U.S.
Mexican guy: Okay, so tell me, why are we drinking green beer? It tastes good, actually the same as regular beer, but, why dye it green? And, why do people say you have to wear green, something green, or take the chance of being pinched?
Irish guy: The wearing of green is to remind the wearer of the beautiful green countryside of Ireland. Although St. Pat’s is not a legal U.S. holiday, it is still observed by millions of people whether Irish or not. It is mainly a celebration of Irish and Irish-American culture. Celebrations include prominent displays of the color green, feasting, consumption of large quantities of alcohol, religious observances, ad numerous parades. In El Paso, we do have parades, but, none is bigger than the one held in New York. The many Irish people who live in New York hold a parade that lasts for two hours. Leading the parade are two Irish wolf-hounds, the mascots of the New York National Guard Infantry Regiment, or the “Fighting 69th.” It includes more than 100 marching bands, with over 100,000 people following the two mascots. Hundreds of thousands of spectators line the parade route. Not even the parade in Dublin, Ireland, matches the one in New York City. It’s really a big deal.
Mexican guy: Okay, I’ll buy. Let’s celebrate. A toast to St. Patrick. You know, I really like this green beer.