Although my last name is Patterson, I never really celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. For all I knew, he was some Irish guy that lived a long time ago that liked to wear green, drink ale and pick clover. But I was wrong.

For some, St. Patrick’s Day means marching bands and parades. For others, it means a day to wear funny little hats and party. Once I saw a St. Patrick’s Day t-shirt that said, “Get ready to stumble.” And that pretty much defines it for a lot of people. That’s why bars offer two-for-one specials, green beer and themed drinks like “Rainbow Shooters” or “Irish Car Bombs.” (Don’t ask!)

But what does St. Patrick’s Day really mean? Why should we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

St. Patrick’s Story

Patrick (who was English, not Irish) was only a teenager when he was captured by pirates, taken to Ireland and sold as a slave. Alone for the first time in his life and scared, Patrick began to pray—even though he was an atheist.

Ten-minute prayers soon became ten-hour prayers. And somewhere in all that praying and working, he met God. Patrick spent long days alone in the green pastures of Ireland, tending sheep and enjoying his newfound faith in God.

After six years in Ireland, Patrick felt the Lord leading him to escape. He slipped away one dark night, but didn’t know where to go. He started walking and eventually came to the coast, where he found a ship to take him back to England.

But after returning home, Patrick just wasn’t the same. He wanted a different life. So he made the painful decision to go back and share his faith with the Irish—a pagan, superstitious people who had no knowledge of God or his son, Jesus Christ.

St. Patrick Shares Jesus

Previously, missionaries had failed to bring Christianity to Ireland because they didn’t understand Irish culture. Patrick had lived among them long enough to know their way of life. He was an innovative teacher, illustrating Biblical truths by using common, everyday images, like the shamrock and the Celtic cross. He taught and baptized thousands.

Of course, Patrick had some opposition, too. The Druid priests constantly fought against him. Patrick was imprisoned and beaten several times.

He once wrote, “All that I am I have received from God. So I live among barbarous tribes, a stranger and exile for the love of God.” 

Why Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

-Patrick took the Great Commission seriously. He advanced the gospel when it was relatively new—around 400 A.D. His selfless work brought thousands of pagan Celts to faith in Jesus.

-He established monasteries and schools all over Ireland. During the Dark Ages, many biblical texts were burned or destroyed on the European continent. Irish Monks actually were responsible for preserving many of the ancient texts that are used for reference today.

-More than a thousand years after Patrick died, Irish immigrants, both Catholic and Protestant, came to America. They brought their faith and Bibles with them, so in a way Patrick served and blessed us, too

-Many Irish-Americans, particularly in the South, are evangelicals. In fact, Michael P. Carroll, a dean at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, reports that Irish-Americans make up a large share of evangelicals in the South—20 percent!

-The seeds of faith that Patrick sowed have greatly affected Christian culture. Great Christian thinkers such as C.S. Lewis and D. L. Moody traced their ancestry and religious heritage back to Ireland.

Sometimes, it’s easy to discount the importance of a single voice for Jesus. If we could ask Patrick, he might say “speak up” rather than “drink up,” on March 17th. This St. Patrick’s Day, celebrate what God did through this one man—it might be more meaningful than celebrating leprechauns and shamrocks. Remember St. Patrick, and be inspired to use your voice—your story—you never know whom you might bless.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

“Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ be in all hearts thinking about me;
Christ be on all tongues telling of me;
Christ be the vision in eyes that see me;
in ears that hear me, Christ ever be.”

—From the Prayer of St. Patrick