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Reclaiming St. Patrick's Day

If you've ever read an article about St. Patrick's Day, it probably talked about how little the celebration has to do with the actual Patrick.

I, for one, have grown tired of the annual rehashing of how he didn't really drive the snakes from Ireland and didn't really use the shamrock to explain the Trinity.

Still, it's worth pondering for a moment why we celebrate St. Patrick's Day far more than, say, St. Augustine's Day or St. Athanasius's Day, even though those two men probably had more influence in shaping Christianity across the world. Put simply, it's because Patrick didn't shape Christianity across the world—at least directly. (Though one can argue that his work in shaping Irish Christianity later bore fruit that would affect the faith through the ages.) He's a large but local figure. And, to over-simplify a bit, it was mostly Irish Americans rather than Irish Irish who made the day a festival of national pride.

Ironically, the socio-political meanings of St. Patrick's Day—a pushback against anti-immigrant sentiment and a protest of British rule—have now been as lost in the bacchanal as the historical Patrick, if not more so.

Imagine for a moment that we "took back" St. Patrick's Day. The groups that launch "Defend Christmas" campaigns every year could have a second market here. The question is, What would St. Patrick's Day be about, if not nationalism and booze? Some ideas:

1. Fighting human trafficking

It's hard to think of a social justice issue that's hotter for evangelical Christians right now than human trafficking. The historical figure most commonly hailed for his work in this area is William Wilberforce, ...

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Reclaiming St. Patrick's Day
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March 2010

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