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Kiss Me, I’m Irish!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Today we all celebrate being Irish – after all, “Everyone’s Irish on March 17!” is advertised year-round (the photo is a permanent fixture in the Guinness StoreHouse in Dublin). It’s a day that has come to mean a party – Irish Stew, beverage-flavoured confections (Baileys fudge, Guinness cupcakes, Jameson jello shots, etc.), and talking with a fake brogue while wearing something (or everything!) green. It’s a day of parades and parties, of sports matches and Irish pride. And these celebrations happen all over the world – Montreal has a famous parade, Chicago dyes its river green, the green lights illuminate the Sydney Opera House and Paris’ Eiffel Tower and Pisa’s Leaning Tower and South Africa’s Table Mountain and Dubai’s Burj Al Arab (and MANY other structures!), Montserrat (and Newfoundland and Labrador) declare a public holiday, celebrations last throughout March in Japan and Switzerland. The day was even celebrated on the International Space Station by in 2011 when Catherine Coleman wore green and displayed her Irish flutes; this year Cmdr Chris Hadfield tweeted a photo in a green bow tie and a soundcloud recording of Danny Boy!

The history available of the person of St. Patrick is quite interesting. Yes, he’s Ireland’s (primary) patronal saint, alongside Brigid and Columba. He was a slave in Ireland, escaped to England, and returned to the Emerald Isle as an ordained missionary, later being consecrated Bishop there. Tales have him using the shamrock to teach about the Trinity, credit him with the absence of snakes (despite evidence that there were not snakes in post-glacial Ireland, though possibly referring to the serpent symbolism of the native Druids). He is connected to two styles of crosses (pattée and saltire), his stick grew into a living tree, he spoke with ancient Irish ancestors to promote Christianity. A bell removed from his grave 60 years after his death has been enshrined and can still be seen in the national Museum of Ireland. Though never formally canonised by a Pope, he is known around the world as a saint, and numerous churches are named after him.

It’s interesting to me to see so many people get so excited about this day, given that it is a religious feast day. It seems to me that people get excited about this day despite that fact that it is a religious feast. In asking some folks last year why they were celebrating St. Patrick, I got some ‘enlightening’ responses: “He got the snakes of the island, didn’t he?” and “he found a 4-leaf clover” and (a rather slurred) “who cares, it’s a party!” It seems to me that the average “Irish for a day!” party-goer really isn’t interested in the history so much as the present reality and the joy that they are getting from it.

Perhaps this is a trend for us church-folks to take notice of – people aren’t necessarily keen to learn all the history of the church all at once, if at all. I think people who want to come to church are more interested in the ways that the church is active in the world now rather than focusing just on what happened in our history. Please know: I am by no means suggesting that we ignore our history and traditions. Rather I think that we should be aware of them as we engage with the world in contemporary and meaningful ways. I think we’re challenged to take the lessons that we have learned from our history and apply them into our modern culture. Lessons such as those from St. Patrick’s life: the growth of faith in the midst of negative circumstances, the commitment to evangelism despite adversity, the bravery to answer the call to ministry, the empowerment of others to exercise their own ministry.

So perhaps today we’re being called to celebrate all aspects of St. Patrick – whether it’s a patronal mass or a green-tinted pint – or both. Perhaps today is a starting point for us to try to find new ways to engage the world, carrying with us the history and tradition into a world that may not know (or care) about the past but has the potential to be engaged in the present and the future. Let’s celebrate the spirit of St. Patrick in Christian love and joy. Let’s take a day to celebrate the unity we share – because today, we’re all Irish.




About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I’m a high-energy priest, now serving in the Diocese of Niagara, catching glimpses of the kingdom in daily life. I consider church to be a verb, and I’m passionate about prayer, eco-theology, and social justice. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, gardening and cooking, playing with my dogs, and drinking good coffee.

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4 Responses to Kiss Me, I’m Irish!

  1. LauraMarie,  Last week as I was preparing my sermon for the 17th I decided to add just a small bit of what is known about the real Patrick. One quote I found said that in Ireland his feast day is a solemn religious holiday while in the rest of the world a secular celebration of all things Irish.  I also noted that in none of my reading on Patrick did I find any reference to green beer!

  2. Pat, I’m glad to hear that you found a way to introduce “the real St. Patrick” to the community–and for many, probably for the first time! At the same time, I think Laurie Marie is also on to something: the day has taken on a certain meaning in North American society. So what do we do with it? While I think acknowledging the historical Patrick and commemorating the feast are really important, I can’t help but wonder if the day also provides us with an opportunity to build community and have some healthy fun?

    In one of my former congregations, we added to the Sunday morning worship services by offering a parish pub night on “the eve of St. Patrick”. We hired an Irish band, served Irish food and, yes, Irish beverages. And you know, the parish hall was packed! We had guests and visitors from all over town. I gave a traditional beer blessing (in both Latin and English), and talked about the real St. Patrick and my diocese’s historical connection to the Church of Ireland. And it was fun.

    On that occasion, we found a way to make the day a “both/and” experience rather than an “either/or” one. But here’s the thing: I’m far less comfortable with making those bridges around other significant festivals, like Christmas and Easter. Thoughts?

  3. Jesse, while your idea of an St. Patrick eve event sounds interesting our local community had base covered. And I really agree with your discomfort around similar events tied to Christmas and Easter. North American consumer society has been far to successful at  secularizing those holy days way beyond saving  for some many folks.


  4. Kyle Norman

    I think that the issue is caught up in the word ‘celebrate’.  I see no problem celebrating St. Patricks day, Easter, Chrsitmas, Thanksgiving, in any general way within the parish – or using those days to foster community and togetherness.  I think those days can provide a wonderful way to draw closer together as the body of Christ.  It serves to comfort those who may not have family to celebrate with, and it is a fabulous way to connect the life of the church with those who exist outside parish walls for most of the year. (as Jesse said, have some good healthy fun -and to show that the church is not anti-fun)  

    But I would argue these things as using St. Patricks day to celebrate community.  And in that sense, we can use secularlized celebrations of days like Christmas, Easter, Mothers day, Thanksgiving, National blue Jeans day and whatever else  in that same regard.

    I think celebrating St. Patrick’s day, and the other holy days of the church is quite different.  For us these days are about Jesus.   St. Patrick was a man who journeyd back to his captors because he was convinced that Jesus loved them.   He worked tirelessly with them for this one purpose.  If we wish to celebrate st. Patrick’s day in all authenticity, then I believe we should be doing the same.  LauraMarie spoke this about evangelism amidst adversity.  To ‘celebrate’ in this manner is to  bypass the beer, the leprauchans, and the clovers and deal with our fundamental mission as people of faith – a mission that Patrick modelled.  I saw a fabulous quote on twitter – I believe it was by @MapleAnglican.  It said “Today, instead of drinking beeer and acting irresponsible I’m going to church . . .which St. Patrick would have vastly preffered.”

    So for me, the question isn’t “What is the best way to celebrate St. Patrick’s day (or any other day?” but essentailly ‘what do we mean by ‘celebrate.?  I think the answer to this question will point us in our direction

    Thanks LauraMarie for this fabulous and thought provoking post. 


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