St. Patrick’s day celebrations honor the missionary responsible for spreading Christianity to the Irish people, and the holiday ultimately celebrates the salvation of a nation.
Although boisterously celebrated today, the actual St. Patrick’s life was marked by hardship. Born around 385 AD as the son of a wealthy deacon, Patrick fell victim to marauders at age 16. They took him from his parents’ Britain abode to Ireland, where he worked as a slave tending sheep in Country Mayo or County Antrim.
During his time of servitude among pagan people, Patrick grew strong in his faith in Christ and prayed many times in a day, finding time in the woods before sunrise, sometimes in the rain and snow. Then, after six years in bondage, Patrick had a dream in which he was told to flee to his home country. He obediently traveled 200 miles and caught a boat back to Britain.
Free from slavery, Patrick had another powerful dream in which he was given a letter titled “The Voice of the Irish,” and he imagined hearing Irish people pleading with him to return. The former slave and soon-to-be missionary prepared for a redeemed future in the land of his captivity.
After spending more than a decade in biblical study and preparation for the priesthood, he brought the message of Christ to the people of the nation where he himself had grown strong in his faith. The Irish, who once treated him like a piece of property, now found liberty from sin in this freedman’s message.
From the time of his landing in Ireland in around 433 A.D. to his death on March 17, 461, St. Patrick shared the gospel, erected churches and converted thousands to Christianity in Ireland. He transformed some pagan customs into “sanctified” activities, such as burning a bonfire on Easter or putting the pagan sun, emblematic of Celtic culture, on the cross. Some believe it to be fact, while others call it fiction that St. Patrick would use shamrocks to illustrate the Trinity in his teachings.March 17 feasts in honor of the missionary first appeared in Ireland during the Middle Ages. Irish immigrants tacked on Irish patriotic traditions seen today. The first documented celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in America took place in 1600 in St. Augustine, Florida. In 1601, the city held the first known St. Patrick’s Day parade celebration — the first of many to come in America.