Well, Saint Patrick’s Day is just around the corner. What are you planning to do to celebrate? If you’re like many Americans you’re planning to wear green. You might even go all out and wear a shamrock. I think that’s a harmless way to celebrate, so go ahead if you like, but I’d encourage you to stop there.
In case you aren’t aware of this, Saint Patrick’s Day is one of the biggest drinking days of the year in America. Depending on which survey you consult, Saint Patrick’s Day is almost always in the top five, and is sometimes listed as the biggest drinking day of all. In other words, far too many people are about to drink far too much alcohol for their own good. And let me be clear, having a glass of wine or a beer from time to time isn’t the problem. In fact there is no doubt that Jesus himself drank wine. It’s the excessive drinking, the over-indulgence, that I’m going after here. Alcohol, after all, is literally a poison.
So why do we do this? Why has this holiday, designed to celebrate the life of a Godly man, become synonymous with heavy drinking? Well, the short answer is that the Catholic Church has allowed a suspension of Lenten vows on this day, and since many people choose to give up alcohol for Lent, they take this opportunity to imbibe, often far too much. But that’s only the origin, of course. Businesses which stand to make money from this holiday, originally brewers and distillers but now costume manufacturers and greeting card makers as well, have long encouraged people to buy their products on this day. Year after year, beginning mostly in the early 20th century and through today, these companies have refined their message. The result, like with other American holidays, is an increasingly deep tradition of excessive alcohol consumption.
The problem is, Saint Patrick is not associated with alcohol in any way. He was a man who dedicated his life to serving and saving the Irish people who were still firmly pagan. Patrick had heard the word of God and knew the message of Jesus, and he was desperate to share that message with all of Ireland. In fact, I personally consider him the greatest example of a Christian missionary that we have. And so I find myself astounded that this man who embodied love and self-sacrifice is honored by selfish behavior and over-indulgence.
Because of Patrick, Ireland became a Christian land. Churches were built to honor God, and monasteries were constructed to house knowledge, to copy books, and to preserve the light of education. It couldn’t have come at a better time. As Thomas Cahill explains in his book How the Irish Saved Civilization – which I highly recommend – just as the Western Roman Empire fell into chaos – and took all of Europe with it – the Emerald Isle remained peaceful. The violent tribes who had torn down the Empire never reached Ireland, and so all the knowledge lovingly stored away in those Irish monasteries and churches was never destroyed. Saint Patrick, then, should be revered more with book-readings and church services than with drunken bar-crawls and rivers dyed green.
I’m still going strong, but that won’t last forever, and so I have to wonder. How will my story be told when I leave this earth? Don’t any of you dare to go and get drunk to celebrate my memory! And if you do, remember that you’ll be feeling plenty green the next morning.