Shamrocks, the “luck of the Irish,” wearing green . . . all things that come to mind when we think of St. Patrick’s Day. But not many people actually know the tradition behind why we celebrate this holiday.
For example, did you know that the famous Saint Patrick was not even Irish? He actually grew up in Britain. But as a teenager, he was kidnapped (by pirates!), taken to Ireland, and sold into slavery. During his time of captivity, he converted to Christianity. After six years, Saint Patrick escaped from prison and became a priest. But Saint Patrick loved the people of Ireland, despite his experience in prison, and he later returned to share the love of Christ with them. He is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. Saint Patrick died on March 17, AD 260, which is the day we celebrate his life.
The Christian heritage of Saint Patrick’s Day is not often remembered in today’s celebrations, but some of the symbols we are familiar with are rooted in the history of this tradition. The shamrocks you see displayed everywhere were used by Saint Patrick to explain the concept of the Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each leaf represented one part of the Trinity—three parts of one whole. We also wear green in honor of the shamrock.
Celebrating holidays with kids can be a great time to dig into the history behind them and make it a learning experience. The act of wearing green and displaying shamrocks can have a whole new meaning for your children when they associate the symbols with the real Saint Patrick and his heart for a lost country. Take time this Saint Patrick’s Day to tell the story of Saint Patrick to your kids in a creative way. Tangible interaction with a story engages your child’s imagination and helps him or her retain the information in a lasting way.
- Dig out the dress-up clothes and act out the story of Saint Patrick. Older kids can even write a script and direct the play! Invite family and friends to watch so everyone can learn about Saint Patrick.
- Do a craft while telling the story. Cut out and decorate shamrocks. Make a shamrock garland to hang. You could even make a pirate ship or jail cell.
- Go to the library and find books on Saint Patrick (appropriate for your child’s reading level). Imagination Station has a great one for your early reader.
- Make a Saint Patrick’s themed meal as a family. While preparing the meal, discuss the Christian origin of the holiday.
- Saint Patrick was known for spreading Christ’s love. Have your kids write and deliver thank-you notes or encouragement notes to those in their lives that they want to share Christ’s love with.
Amie Carlson is the Product and Marketing Manager for Focus on the Family Kids/Media and Faith That Sticks. She has contributed to 365 Pocket Prayers for Mothers and Relevant magazine and written for Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association.