Tomorrow we’ll celebrate one of my new favorite holidays: St. Patrick’s Day–and it’s not because I have a strong affection for leprechauns and green beer. As with most holidays today, St. Patrick’s Day has become a commercialized celebration of silly nonsense. And I get it–it’s fun. I love fun just as much as the next person–and there is certainly a place for fun in all of our holidays–but what gets to me is that up until very recently I didn’t even know the “true” story of St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a true story.
In fact, the true story of St. Patrick’s Day is one of deep historical–and spiritual–significance. Far more than celebrating pots of gold and wearing green, St. Patrick’s Day is a vivid illustration of God’s power and redemption. For me personally, the day is also a reminder of the singularly beautiful place that I got to call home for a short time: Ireland. The Emerald Isle will always hold a special place in my heart, and I want people to know her story.
This week I’ll be going to David’s preschool to share my rousing rendition of The True Story of St. Patrick’s Day. It will go something like this:
Last year our family lived in a country far away from here called Ireland. When we were living in Ireland, we learned a lot about the country and the people who live there.
You know how in fairytales there are princes and princesses and castles? Well, in Ireland there are real castles! The castles in Ireland were built a long, long time ago. We got to visit many castles in Ireland to learn about the stories of the people who built them and lived in them. Although plenty of castles are still standing today, people don’t live in them any more.
Not everybody in Ireland lived in castles. A long time ago, people built other kinds of houses to live in. This is called a beehive hut. It is made from small stones stacked on top of each other to make a kind-of rock igloo. Grass has grown on top to make a roof. Does this look like the house you live in?
Quite a bit later, people in Ireland built another kind of house. These houses looked more like the houses that we live in today, but most of them were still built entirely out of stone. The people who lived in this village all left during a time when many people in Ireland were very poor and sick. In just a few years’ time, the entire village became deserted. Many of the people who left this village boarded ships that were going to America. They hoped to find a better life in America. Today in America, there are many people whose families came from Ireland long ago.
This is called the Dromberg Stone Circle, and it is a very, very old statue. There are several stone circles like this in Ireland. Nobody today knows exactly why people long ago built the stone circles, but they think it had something to do with the gods they worshiped. Throughout history, people in Ireland have worshiped different things. For a long time, though, people did not worship the one true living God.
Over 1,000 years ago, in about the year 400, a man helped to tell the people in Ireland about the one true God. He was not the first or only person to be a missionary in Ireland, but God used his words and his work to change many peoples’ lives. Today, we know this man as St. Patrick.
Before St. Patrick was called St. Patrick, he was a boy with another name. He was born in a country called Scotland that is just north of Ireland. When he was 16 years old, he was captured and sent on a ship to Ireland as a slave. The young boy was scared and alone.
Once he arrived in Ireland, the boy was given a new name: Patrick. He worked each day as a shepherd, taking care of his master’s sheep. Patrick would be alone outside all day, every day taking care of the sheep. While he was alone, he came to know the one true living God. He started praying to God, and asked God to protect him.
God answered Patrick’s prayers and, a few years later, Patrick escaped to safety. He left Ireland and didn’t think he would ever return. But God had a different plan. God changed Patrick’s heart to love the people in Ireland, and Patrick knew that he had to return to tell the people there about the one true living God. When Patrick returned to Ireland as a grown man, he spent the rest of his life teaching the Irish people about God. He used shamrocks, a plant that grows everywhere in Ireland, to teach people about the trinity. He would point out that each of the three heart-shaped leaves is unique, but part of one unit. In the same way, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit work together as one.
Patrick would also point to the rainbows in the sky–and there are many of them in Ireland!–and tell people the story of the flood and God’s promise to protect His people.
Partly because of Patrick’s work teaching about God, many people in Ireland came to know the one true God. Today, there are many churches in Ireland where people can go to worship God.
Because of his work in Ireland, Patrick became known as St. Patrick. Today, we even have a special holiday named after him: St. Patrick’s Day. On St. Patrick’s Day we dress in green to remind us of the green hills in Ireland where Patrick used to live and teach.
Today we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with fun activities like games and parades. Now when you see green and shamrocks you’ll know the reason why we celebrate this special day!
As I was putting together my little preschool presentation, I was struck by how significant St. Patrick is. Yes, Patrick was just a person, but God used him mightily. In his day, Ireland was widely considered to be the most heathen corner of the planet–and, yet, God broke through. Using the voice of an obedient man, God spoke Truth to a people who so desperately needed it. More significantly, however, there are many ways that Patrick actually points to the work and life of Jesus.
Patrick was a slave to his master. We are all enslaved to sin, yet Jesus came to conquer sin once and for all.
Patrick was given a new name and identity upon his arrival in Ireland. God gives His sons and daughters a new identity in Christ Jesus.
Patrick was a shepherd. Jesus was the lamb of God.
Patrick was obedient to God’s call on his life to rescue the lost. Jesus was obedient to His Father to the point of death on the cross and resurrection.
Patrick has been immortalized as a “saint” who we celebrate once a year. Jesus is a Saint who we worship every moment of every day, for now and forever.
So now when you’re eating corned beef and cabbage or setting leprechaun traps with your kids, you’ll know that there’s something more to the revelry. We can all celebrate because God is, and always has been, GOOD!