Although St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) is a celebration of the “Emerald Isle’s” patron saint, the truth is that the festivities have a number of pagan symbolism that can be found commonly in Ancient Greek and Celtic mythology.
St. Patrick’s claim to fame is that he drove the snakes from Ireland.
The legendary snake might be a pagan symbol, referring metaphorically to the fact that St. Patrick eradicated paganism and converted the Celts of Ireland (or Hibernia during the Roman antiquity) to Christianity.
According to historical annals, Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britannia, however, his feast day on March 17 had little to do with the early Christian missionary himself.
It was designed to coincide with and replace the pagan holiday known as Ostara, the second spring festival to celebrate the rebirth of nature prior to the spring equinox on March 22.
In other words, St. Patrick’s Day was the Christian replacement for a pagan holiday that was also celebrated in ancient Greece. Even the symbolism of the oak tree for St. Patrick’s day celebrations was a symbol used in Ancient Greece.
The ancient Greeks worshipped the oak tree as it was sacred to Zeus.
Both the Greeks and the Celts believed that touching sacred trees could tap into good fortune. The wearing of oak leafs was believed to protect the wearer.
Pagan author P. Sufenas Virius Lupus says,
“St. Patrick’s reputation as the one who Christianised Ireland is seriously over-rated and overstated, as there were others that came before him (and after him), and the process seemed to be well on its way at least a century before the “traditional” date given as his arrival, 432 CE.”
He goes on to add that Irish colonists in numerous areas around Cornwall and sub-Roman Britain had already come into encountered Christianity elsewhere, and brought bits and pieces of the religion back to their homelands.
And while it’s true that snakes are hard to find in Ireland, this may well be due to the fact that it’s an island, and so snakes aren’t exactly migrating there in packs.
Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many places on March 17, typically with a parade (an oddly American invention) and lots of other festivities.
In Irish cities like Dublin, Belfast, and Derry, the annual celebrations are a big deal.
The first Parade actually took place in Boston, Massachusetts, back in 1737; the city is known for its high percentage of residents who claim an Irish ancestry.