Friday, March 15, 2013

Happy Irish beer day!


It's time again for St. Patrick's Day. The favorite holiday of beer lovers everywhere. Everyone wearing green, drinking plenty of beer, partying, and trying on their worst Irish accent. A fun and innocent celebration, so long no one drinks and drives, or starts a drunken brawl. But what is the history of St. Patrick's Day?

In the Christian tradition, Saint Patrick was a patron saint of Ireland. His honorific day is observed on March 17th to mark the date of his death. One of the most fanciful legends regarding St. Patrick is that he drove the snakes from Ireland. This legend was meant to explain the lack of snakes native to the Irish countryside. The story told of how he would stamp his staff on the ground and drove the snakes into the sea, never to return. An interesting story... But how does it stand up to the facts?

The answer is, very poorly indeed. The first point that there were no snakes for him to drive away in the first place. Evidence points toward the land that would be Ireland being insulated buy ice during the last ice age. Snakes are not uncommon in Scotland, which is not far separated from Ireland, yet Ireland has no native snake species. The simple fact is that the ice separating Ireland from other nearby shores might as well been a 50ft tall wall. This is because the snakes, being cold blooded would be unable to survive a passage across the separative ice sheet. So there you have it... And if you ask me, the natural explanation is a much more satisfying and interesting one.

But there's more the story of St. Patrick and the snakes. Though he didn't drive literal snakes from Ireland, the story may be based on some unfortunate truth. Remember that St. Patrick is also credited (falsely) for introducing Christianity to Ireland. Prior to then, Druidism and Paganism were the common traditions. Serpents (snakes) were the usual symbolism Christians used to represent these non-Christian Pagans. So the 'snakes' St. Patrick was driving from Ireland were the the Druids and Pagans. Sadly, it wasn't as simple of him driving Paganism from Ireland.

Like is so often the case, Christianity would supplant the present Druid and pagan faiths by force. Granted, not all converted by way of threat. But there were those that resisted the new Christian faith when Patrick came to their shores, as well as those that came before them. But sadly, Christianity (represented by St. Patrick) would drive the snakes (representative of the Druids/Pagans) out of Ireland (well, for the most part). But this wasn't a pleasant transition.

Patrick and his followers would kill off the Druids. Rather than stamping his staff on the ground to drive away snakes, the stamping of this staff was a signal to his followers that this was a Druid to be disposed of. Slowly these teachers of Paganism began to dwindle in number, and the new Teachers of Christianity rose up to take the place that they forcefully made vacant.

Luckily, very few view St. Patrick's Day as a Catholic holiday anymore, nor celebrate it to pay honor to Patrick and his supposed accomplishments. To me, this is one case where it is a good thing that a holiday is so far removed from it's origins. While I am not a big fan of beer, I can appreciate that St. Patrick's Day has really become a day for people to drink and have a good time. My partial Irish heritage makes me happy to see Ireland get it's own day... Even if it comes along with Irish stereotypes and bad accents. I can even tolerate the green food, green beer, green clothes, and Leprechauns since they are all taking the spotlight off of St. Patrick. After all, he never did what he is credited ti do, and the actions he did commit make him very far from a good role model.

-BH


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