Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day

     As would be expected today, we are going to talk about St. Patrick's Day. More specifically, we are going to talk about St. Patrick himself, because quite frankly there isn't a lot that can be said about the day that hasn't been said already. Like all holidays the myths and stories that surround it have been exaggerated somewhat, and we all know the traditions: drinking green beer, wearing green, fighting with gays about being in the parade, and passing out with no pants on in an alley by 11:30 AM. That's what goes on on St. Patrick's Day. But you knew all that. The reason we are going to talk about St. Patrick himself is because I would be willing to bet that you don't know shit about him.
     First of all, St. Patrick (Naomh Pádraig if you are Irish and happen to speak Gaelic) might be one of the patron saints of Ireland, but he wasn't even Irish. Yeah, that's right. He was born in Roman England (Britannia if you are a Roman Senator or something) but was actually of Welsh ancestry. Yeah, so the patron saint of Ireland was Welsh, which is fine and not nearly as inciting as if he was English. Could you even imagine that business? So anyway, the man whose name is synonymous with Ireland wasn't even Irish. Could you imagine if Ghandi wasn't Indian? Or George Washington wasn't American? Okay, that's not a good example. But you get the point.
     Ireland, however, was not nice to St. Patrick the first time around. As a teenager he was captured by Irish raiders and taken back to the Emerald Isle where he was a slave for over six years before escaping back to Great Britain. Wow. I am not sure how this works. Perhaps it is like those women who always seem to flock to the guys who treat them the worst, you know, those ones you always see on Maury Povich going "I know he threw me out of a moving car and left me stranded at a rest area in the middle of the Everglades, but he just did me that because he loves me and wanted to teach me a lesson." What lesson, sweetheart? Don't sneeze in the car? I just don't get it. What a lesson for the young St. Patrick: stay the hell out of Ireland. Apparently he didn't listen.
     Patrick, not yet sainted, went back to Ireland to work as a missionary for almost twenty years, during which time he was an abject failure. But Dave, he went on to become the patron saint OF THE WHOLE COUNTRY! Yeah, okay, but who hasn't become the patron saint of some country. I am the patron saint of Mongolia and you don't see me trumpeting it from the mountaintops. Just kidding. But seriously, Saint Patrick wasn't a terribly good missionary. Let us look at the facts, shall we? Over twenty years he went around the north and west sides of the island trying to convert the Celts to Christianity. While the west of Ireland is devoutly Catholic, and the northeast is devoutly Protestant, the fabled Irish monetary system did not develop until well after St. Patrick's time, and the Irish church never evoked any of the models for church structure that St. Patrick promotes during his teachings. So what, exactly, did he do to earn patron sainthood?
     I can tell you what he didn't do. He didn't chase ANY snakes out of Ireland, because science has determined that after the glaciers left, Ireland didn't have any snakes. And unless St. Patrick brought the glaciers to Ireland that made all the snakes away and then made the glaciers go away again he didn't do shit. Some people think that the snakes are representative of the "serpent" non-Christians but no one seems to know. The best thing that St. Patrick seemed to do was let other people assign stories to him. Many of the stories attributed to St. Patrick seem to be referring to the work of Palladius, who was the first Bishop of Ireland. So basically St. Patrick is like that kid in high school in the 1950s who didn't quite win the game of chicken with the tough greaser for the prom queen's heart but who let the whole school think he did.
     But in the end he was anointed and therefore got himself a feast day and a country to be patron saint of, so he must have been doing something right. It's these two things that bring us to today, when we celebrate him by eating corned beef and cabbage (which they never ate in Ireland) and drink green beer (which they most likely do in Ireland) and chase snakes around (which they never had in Ireland). And that's okay. Because it's a reason to celebrate, and let's be honest here, everyone loves a good story. So maybe it's best that we let sleeping dogs lie when it comes to St. Patrick. So hoist a pint of the finest green beer that your local pub has to offer and sing an Tu-ra-lu-ra-lu-ra until you fall down. Enjoy the day. Wear green, get kissed, the whole nine yards. Everyone can be Irish on St. Patrick's Day. St. Patrick would have wanted it that way anyhow. Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

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