Should Christians Celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day

What will you be doing on March 17 this year? Well, for millions of people in first world countries, they will don as much green as possible, meet at the local Irish tavern for a “green beer,” and wear their “Kiss me, I’m Irish” necklaces and t-shirts even if there is not a drop of Irish blood in their ancestry. These, along with parades, stories of leprechauns and pots of gold, special foods, music, dancing, and lots of drinking, are all part and parcel of the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

Patrick, formerly known as Maewyn Succat and considered the patron saint of Ireland, was born in the late 300’s in the Roman colony of Britain. At the age of 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave. Tradition says that he spent six years working as a herdsman in Ireland before escaping from his master and returning home to Britain. During those years of captivity, Patrick began to experience thoughts about God as he was tending sheep. According to his own writings, Patrick began to see visions and have vivid dreams. On one occasion, he heard the voice of God telling him that a ship was being readied for his escape. After eventually fleeing his Irish captors, Patrick travelled some 200 miles to board a ship.

History is a little hazy at this point, and there are conflicting stories about where he disembarked the vessel. Some believe he landed in France; others believe it was Cornwall or Wales. Regardless of the destination, Patrick was a changed man. His mystic experiences in Ireland, on top of his Roman Catholic upbringing, led him to believe that his life’s mission was to “Christianise” the pagan and druidic people of Ireland.

Most historians believe that Patrick then spent some 20 years as a monk before seeing another vision which called him back to Ireland around 432AD. These two decades galvanised his religious devotion, and his Roman Catholic theology.

In hagiographical literature, Patrick is said to have raised 33 people from the dead, and miraculously supplied a herd of swine to hungry sailors who were travelling through his region. These, and many other legends are speculative at best.

Sadly, many naive and undiscerning protestant Christians lend their voice in support of this man and St. Patrick’s Day. What they fail to realise is that, despite espousing some truths in his Confessio, and his alleged use of the Irish Clover to explain the trinity, Patrick was a Roman Catholic whose missionary efforts left much to be desired in terms of theology. Whilst we need to be careful about being overly critical, especially when the historical narrative is somewhat obscured, I think it is safe to say that Patrick was a mystic whose reliance on visions and dreams are cause for concern. Furthermore, his establishment of many monasteries in Ireland also demonstrates a misunderstanding of biblical ecclesiology.

For these reasons, and because this commemoration has evolved into an event marked by revelry and debauchery, I choose not to participate in St. Patrick’s Day. As with all non-biblical celebrations, every Christian must decide in their own mind what is right for themselves and for their families.

Wherever you land on this matter, it is important to be familiar with the history and traditions associated with St. Patrick’s Day in order that you might present Christ to an increasingly hostile world. May God help us  to exercise discernment and wisdom as we  consider these things.