St. Patrick’s Day often conjures visions of leprechauns, shamrocks and, of course, beer. March 17 has become a celebration of all things Irish, especially the booze.
But as with many other holidays associated with Christian saints — such as St. Valentine’s Day — St. Patrick’s Day’s original meaning has become convoluted.
With that in mind, here’s a quick-hit guide to St. Patrick’s Day. A bit o’ the history.
As one might guess, St. Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland. He is credited with the conversion of Ireland from paganism to Catholicism.
According to www.theholidayspot.com, Patrick was born in either Scotland or Wales in the late Fourth Century.
As a teen, Patrick was captured by Irish marauders and forced into slavery in Ireland. According to legend, Patrick had a dream where God told him to escape and return home. Whether the dream is true or not, Patrick did manage to escape.
After his homecoming, Patrick went to a monastery in France where he studied and became a member of the Catholic clergy.
Patrick is supposed to have had another dream, this one calling him back to Ireland. He set out on a long — and extremely successful — mission.
Patrick traveled Ireland for more than 20 years winning converts and founding churches and monasteries — for which he was imprisoned for several times. According to www.history.com, the majority of Ireland was Catholic within 200 years of Patrick’s death.
Patrick died on March 17 in the year 461. That day has been celebrated in Ireland ever since with food, music, dancing and prayer.
There are many legends surrounding St. Patrick.
One of the most famous tells of St. Patrick banishing all the snakes from Ireland. The story goes that on his commandment, all the snakes fled Ireland into the sea, where they drowned. Ireland has therefore been sans serpent ever since.
Of course, this is just the stuff of legends, as Ireland never had any native snakes.
Another story whose truth is a more debatable is St. Patrick’s use of the shamrock.
It is told that St. Patrick was having a difficult time explaining the trinity, a basic tenet of Catholicism, to the fifth century pagans. In order to explain it, he picked a shamrock and showed that just as the three leaves make up one plant, Christians believe the Father, Son and Holy Spirit make up the same God.
The shamrock is the most prolific symbol of St. Patrick’s Day and the Irish in general. While the connection between the two is solidified by the story of St. Patrick’s trinity explanation, some evidence suggests that the symbol was celebrated earlier by pagan Irish as a symbol of springtime.
The shamrock now represents Irish pride. It was worn as a symbol of Irish nationalism during times of oppression by British rule when it was illegal to speak the Irish language and practice Catholicism.
The shamrock at one point seemed so rebellious that Queen Victoria’s Irish regiments were forbidden from displaying the symbol.
Another symbol that pervades the holiday is the leprechaun. The modern image of the leprechaun is more product of the American psyche than Ireland.
According to www.history.com, the leprechaun is from the Celtic fairy tradition.
The leprechaun played a bit part in the fairy world and stories — in fact, they are cranky old shoemaking shut-ins according to tradition. They have little relevance and aren’t given a second thought in Ireland.
The image most Americans associate with leprechauns is taken from the 1959 Walt Disney film, “Darby O’Gill and the Little People.”
They may not be the rolling hills of Ireland, but Laguna Beach’s green hills are the next best thing. The center is still new, so there aren’t any road signs to tip you off when you’ve arrived.
The center is located between the 73 toll road and the 405 freeway. The two lanes widen to three when you near it. From Laguna Beach, you’ll be turning left; from the 405, you’ll be turning right.
Celtic scholar Heather Larson will play Celtic harp and tell Celtic stories to honor St. Patrick’s Day at 10:30 a.m. in the Parlor of Laguna Presbyterian Church, 415 Forest Avenue. Larson earned her Ph.D in Celtic Languages and Literature at Harvard University. There is no charge. Contact Kathy Sizer at (949) 494-7555 for more information.
However you spend your St. Patrick’s Day, enjoy the celebration of Irish culture.
But be forewarned: The Laguna Beach Police Department will have extra staff out and about to keep the revelry in check.