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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The History of St. Patrick's Day

The first step in celebrating St. Patrick's Day is figuring out what the holiday is all about. Excited to welcome author Karen Wingate to my blog to tell us a little about how St. Patrick's Day came to be. (And check out her delicious St. Patrick's Day recipe below.)

The History of St. Patrick's Day
By Karen Wingate

I love St. Patrick’s Day! It’s my favorite of the second tier of holidays.

My family, who knows of my secret passion for anything with potatoes, would accuse me of wanting yet another reason to eat my favorite food since the Irish also love potatoes. I admit, I do love Irish food—Irish Stew, Corned Beef and Cabbage (although that didn’t become popular until the Irish moved to America where beef was more plentiful), and Irish Soda Bread.

I can do without the green beer, the McDonald’s mint milkshakes, and shamrock shaped sugar cookies. I cook Irish food and wear green or shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day only to symbolize that I’m observing a very special day.

Why? Am I Irish?  Um, I thought I was until I talked recently with a cousin on my father’s side. Nope, not a drop.

The commemoration of St Patrick’s Day goes back as far as 1762. George Washington is noted to have allowed his troops to celebrate the day in 1780.  It’s become known as a holiday with parades, the ever present green beer, and dinners of Irish food.   Yet to the Irish, it is more a religious holiday than a day of decadence and celebration. Here’s why and here is why this day is important to me.

According to a Breakpoint article by Charles Colson, Patrick was born to a middle class British family in about 390. As a teenager, he was captured and taken as a slave to a remote part of Ireland to serve as a shepherd. In his lonely hours, Patrick began seeking after God. Six years later, God miraculously freed him from his servitude. But Patrick was a different man when he came back to England. He would return to Ireland with the purpose of bringing the Irish to Christ. He was the first missionary to a non-Roman civilization. Through Patrick’s work, God brought thousands back to himself. This was no easy task. The Irish were known as a cruel and violent people.  Patrick returned to the land of his captors, fully aware of the dangers of death and enslavement.

For me, St Patrick’s Day is a day to remember Christian heroes and missionaries.  I spend the day praying for my missionary friends. As I eat my corned beef and cabbage, I thank God for my Christian heritage and wonder at God’s ability to use one man to change a civilization.

I think of other Irish missionaries—my friends Mark and Kelly Nickel who moved to Ireland in 1989. In the 17 years they were there, they started a church that only consisted of 10 adults.  They had a youth group that had 15 kids.  Many looked at their work as a cult.

While in Bible College, Kelly discovered she had a brain tumor.  In spite of this, she married, had children and moved to Ireland.  Kelly’s brain tumor came back and Kelly died in November of 2004.  Even though their work was so difficult and what many would term unproductive, people throughout the world were touched by Kelly’s faith in spite of extreme suffering.  Throughout their time in Ireland, a number of interns came to work with them.  As one intern, Thea Smith, says, “she portrayed the love of Christ to everyone even when it got to the point that she couldn’t talk.”

I’ve learned some lessons from St. Patrick and Kelly Nickel.

1) Just because a church is established in a certain locale does not mean it will last.  The seven churches of Revelation no longer exist.  Despite St. Patrick's work thousands of years ago, Ireland once again desperately needs Christ.  The church and the faith in your family is always one generation away from extinction.  We must work hard to maintain and preserve the faith, whether in our family, our home church, or on a foreign mission field.

2) When we think of foreign missions, we often think of places like Haiti or India.  But Europe desperately needs the “unadulterated” gospel.  The need for Christ in Ireland is extreme.  Pray the Lord of the harvest to send workers into His fields.

St Patrick’s Day is a great day to thank God for the many unknown missionaries who aren’t honored with a day of their own and to pray that God’s Word become known among the nations. Want to join me?

Irish Fact: St Patrick used the shamrock to teach the Irish about the Trinity.

For more information about St. Patrick, check out the book, “How The Irish Saved Civilization” by Thomas Cahill, Anchor Books, 1996.

Karen’s Crock-Pot Corned Beef & Cabbage

Rinse and pat dry one corned beef. Discard spice packet.  Place corned beef in crock pot. Place cabbage wedges and red potatoes on top. Cover and cook on high 4 hours or low for 6 hours or until potatoes and cabbage are fork tender. Serve with Irish Soda Bread or pumpernickel bread.

Karen Wingate is an author, Bible study leader, and women’s ministry coordinator in Roseville, Illinois. She is the author of several books in the Rainbow Publisher’s series, Five Minute Sunday School Activities along with numerous magazine articles and Vacation Bible School curriculum. She is currently working on a series of historical novels set in northeast Ohio. You can enjoy more of Karen’s thoughts at


  1. Hey, I learned something! I didn't know anything about St. Patrick, but now I do. :)

    I've heard for most of my adult life that Europe is probably the least fertile soil left for the Gospel. Sad. I hope it's not an indication of where this country's headed...

  2. Tom, I have missionary friends in Berlin who have more work and more contacts than they can keep up with. The need is great, people are hungry for the gospel. Teri and Larry haven't seen any conversions yet but so many people looking for answers. My daughter worked in Bosnia where any belief in the Gospel is nothing more than a thin veneer of faith. Yes, I fear Christianity is losing its grip here as well.