St. Patrick’s Day: The Real Story

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everybody. It’s such a great holiday. Everything’s green. Just like Ireland. Just like St. Patrick. Legend has it that good old St. Pat had sort of a green tint to him, to his complexion. Those interested in hagiography know that Patrick had to board a ship to travel to Ireland. It was there that he developed a really bad case of seasickness. “Looking a little green around the gills, aren’t ye Patty?” the sailors used to tease and taunt him.

And it was true. From the minute St. Patrick boarded his first vessel, he couldn’t stop feeling the rocking, the back and forth, the never-ending motion of the boat crashing against the waves. When he wasn’t throwing up, he was in between throw-ups. It was pretty constant. He was originally supposed to be a slave on one of these ships, but after a while the captain realized that Patrick was all but useless on a boat.

They tried beating it out of him, they tried withholding food and water. But the Lord works in mysterious ways, and so Patrick kept puking and puking. Finally the crew conceded that he was probably a lost cause, and so they made him walk the plank.

Even when he was thrown overboard, alone, adrift in the sea, he couldn’t stop throwing up. But it was all for the best, because his wrenching and heaving served to propel him forward through the water, until he miraculously landed on the Emerald Isle.

Once on dry land, his nausea diminished somewhat, but he was never really able to get his sea legs to start acting like land legs again. For the rest of his life, wherever he went, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop feeling those waves, the incessant rocking back and forth. He’d lay awake in his bed for hours, unable to stop the maddening sensation of being stuck on that boat, staring at the ceiling and trying to will his brain to adjust to his new surroundings.

But it was all for naught, and he had to contend to living a life slightly off balance. Interestingly, this is how the Irish people came up with one of their most famous dances, the jig. After Patrick did all of his miracles, expelled the frogs and the snakes, defeated the druid priests in miracle competitions, he became very famous. Everybody in Ireland knew of him and talked about his exploits. He was beloved enough that when people saw him walking all wobbly because of the whole permanent seasickness thing, they emulated him. They all started walking like they were stuck on a boat. And so generation after generation, this became a way to commemorate Patrick, it became embedded in the Irish culture, in the jig.

Unfortunately, to an outsider’s perspective, this whole walking around like you can’t get a hold of anything, it looks an awful lot like inebriation. And so the Irish developed an unwarranted reputation for being a group of heavy drinkers. Still, St. Patrick’s life was noble and honorable enough to overcome this slanderous legacy, kind of.

Today Irish and non-Irish around the world celebrate the life and deeds of St. Patrick, Ireland’s most famous non-Irish person. Some of his more unsophisticated followers use his feast day as an excuse to head to the city for the day, to get really drunk. They drink lots of beer and have to go to the bathroom really badly, but everybody else is doing the same exact thing. So they head down to the alley to see if they can’t get away with peeing outside, but the cops, they’re everywhere, they’re just counting on busting kids from the suburbs for public urination. And that’s a pretty hefty fine.

True devotees commemorate St. Patrick by, yes, by drinking, but they use green food coloring to make their beer look green. And it’s not just beer. You can get green bagels on St. Patrick’s Day. You can get a Shamrock Shake at McDonald’s. There’s lots of green stuff available, just like in Ireland.

So get out there and celebrate. Do a little jig. If you see a frog or a snake, kill it. And make sure that everything you eat and drink is green. Happy St. Patrick’s Day everybody!