SHOULD CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE SAINT PATRICK’S DAY?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Thank you for that question. We will look at it from a historical standpoint and then use the Bible to provide an informed answer.
WHO WAS “SAINT PATRICK?”
“Saint Patrick” is a rather enigmatic individual because myth and legend have distorted the record of his life. Some of the dumbest, most superstitious, tales are attached to him. He was definitely a real man, having lived sometime during the A.D. 400s. Regrettably, ancient authoritative records on his life are scarce. Thus, historians are not even agreed concerning his birth year or death year. Some have suggested he has been confused with another “religious” man who lived contemporaneously. The possibility of these “blended” lives makes it very difficult to distinguish Patrick from the other man, and we must be careful to differentiate Patrick’s likely actions from outright fantasy.
Furthermore, church tradition has also clouded the matter. The Roman Catholic Church, attempting to bolster itself in Ireland, has “hijacked” Patrick and made him one of its “patron saints.” Personally, I am not convinced Patrick was ever a Roman Catholic. From what I have been able to ascertain through a variety of sources, Patrick was the first known Christian missionary to the pagans in Ireland. He was a Bible-believing Christian whom the Holy Spirit used to bring countless Irish souls out of dark heathenism (that would be a far cry from a Roman Catholic!). Born and raised in Great Britain, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland around age 16. He returned to Britain years later, and after obtaining an education in theology, returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary, supposedly becoming a church leader late in his life. March 17 is commonly believed to be his death date—again, the precise year is debatable, but somewhere between 460 and 500.
On the religious calendar, March 17 is the Roman Catholic feast day for “Saint Patrick” (a parody of the previously-mentioned real, non-Catholic, Christian missionary to Ireland). Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox adherents, and Lutherans largely observe March 17 as well. For Roman Catholics in Ireland, March 17 is a “holy day of obligation.” Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations closely resemble Mardi Gras celebrations here in Roman Catholic southern Louisiana—alcoholic beverages and drunkenness, parades, dances, et cetera. (See our Mardi Gras study linked at the end of this article for more information.) Once a “religious” holiday, Saint Patrick’s Day is largely just another excuse to sin (carouse) in the name of “religion” and “holiness.” Still, some genuinely celebrate the day to commemorate Christianity’s arrival to Ireland. In a non-religious sense, March 17 is also a celebration of Irish culture and heritage in general.
THE PROTESTANT/ROMAN-CATHOLIC DEBATE
It is important to note that Ireland’s national flag is a tricolor, from left to right—green, white, and orange. Green represents Ireland’s Roman Catholic heritage, orange represents Ireland’s Protestant heritage, and white (in the middle) represents the “aspiring peace” between the groups that have fought against each other for centuries there. So, those who wear green on Saint Patrick’s Day are either (1) Roman Catholic, or (2) ignorant Protestant. Orange is the color that Protestants wear on March 17. Every March 17, keep an eye out for these two colors and see who draws attention to what color they are wearing!
As previously mentioned, the Roman Catholic Church claims “Saint Patrick” was a Roman Catholic. Catholic apologists reason that he could have not been a “Protestant” since the Protestant/Catholic split did not occur until some 1000 years after Patrick’s death. Of course, if Patrick was not Roman Catholic, and from what I have read, he was not Roman Catholic, then “Protestant” would be the opposite of “Roman Catholic,” no?
WHAT SHOULD THE CHRISTIAN DO?
If you are a Bible-believing Christian with Irish ancestry, and/or you are a Bible-believing Christian living in Ireland, and you just want to remember your relatives and your country of origin on March 17, I see no sin in that. (I have Irish ancestry on my maternal grandfather’s side of the family, but I have never actually celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day.) If you live in Ireland and you want to celebrate Christianity’s arrival to your country, you may do so. I see no sin in that. Still, and this is most important of all, in light of the information presented above, just remember that your participation in such a holiday may cause other Christians to stumble. Consider the verses I will share with you shortly, and use your judgment accordingly.
For example, a fellow Christian may approach you about Saint Patrick’s Day, saying, “Hey, is not this holiday something sinful, something of heathen origin? Why do you do it? Christians should not get involved with that! There is a lot of superstition, and drinking, and false religion!” At that point, you would need to address his or her concern, lest the Adversary get the advantage.
Any weaker Christians should definitely not engage in Saint Patrick’s Day activities at all (until they resolve in their minds that they can keep themselves spiritually pure, they will damage their spiritual health). A general rule of thumb for all life decisions, is the following: If there is doubt about doing it, then do not do it. “For whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b). If you think you can keep yourself spiritually pure in Saint Patrick’s Day activities, it is not a sin. Just walk in charity, keeping others in mind. If you regard Saint Patrick’s Day as something to be avoided entirely, then it is your prerogative to avoid it. The Bible never outright says “yes” or “no.”
If you do want to engage in Saint Patrick’s Day, you are highly encouraged to read Romans 14:1-23, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, and 1 Corinthians 10:23-33. These passages are reminders of how we are to exercise our liberty in Christ without harming other Christians. A common conundrum among the Gentile believers of Paul’s day was, “Is it okay to eat meat (or, food in general) that was once sacrificed to pagan idols? Will that diet of heathen offerings give me a bad standing before God? Can that idol (false religious system) defile me by means of that food?”
The Bible says in Romans chapter 14: “ For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.  For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.  Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.  I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.  But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.  Let not then your good be evil spoken of:  For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.  For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.  Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.  For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.  It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.  Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.  And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
Notice that the Christians stronger in the faith (more mature in the Word of God)—such as the Apostle Paul—knew there was nothing wrong with that food that had been offered to idols. The idol was dead (unable to defile the food), the food was hence still good, and Paul had no problem eating it. He had a strong conscience about it. That was his liberty in Jesus Christ. Still, Paul would also walk “charitably,” seeking the good of those around him. If a weaker Christian (a Christian with a weak conscience, someone who was less mature in the Word of God) had a problem with Paul’s action, if the weaker Christian voiced concern that eating meat offered to idols was sinful, then Paul said he refrained from doing it for the brother or sister’s sake. The Apostle knew that it was better to do without something, than to have it and then use it to spiritually harm another believer. He did not want to do Satan’s work. He refused to be a stumblingblock to others when it came to this or any other action. Friends, grace living seeks the benefit of others; grace living is not selfish living but selfless living!
We read of this matter further in 1 Corinthians chapter 8: “ Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.  And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.  But if any man love God, the same is known of him.  As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.  For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)  But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.  Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.  But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.  But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.  For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;  And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?  But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.  Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
The Apostle continued in 1 Corinthians chapter 10: “ All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.  Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.  Whatsoever is sold in the shambles [marketplace], that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:  For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.  If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.  But if any man say unto you, this is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof:  Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?  For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?  Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.  Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:  Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”
In Greek culture such as in Corinth, animals were offered as sacrifices in pagan temples and then the meat was sold in the marketplace. Some Christians just refused to eat any meat, fearing they would pollute themselves with that which came from a heathen temple. Other Christians, the more mature ones, knew the idols were nothing and the idols did not harm the food, so these Christians considered the meat clean to eat. Regardless of which type of Christian they were, Paul urged all Christians: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” We should ultimately seek God’s praise and glory in all that we do, paying close attention that we build up other Christians with our actions instead of tearing them down.
Like many popular “religious” holidays—Christmas and Easter, primarily—Saint Patrick’s Day has become highly secularized. It is not even a decent “religious holiday.” There is a lot of nonsense and myth associated with it. Still, if you want to observe it in the privacy of your home, by all means, do it. If you want to celebrate your Irish heritage, fine. If you do not want to celebrate your Irish heritage, that too is fine. This is the liberty of grace—God did not make all the decisions for us! Rather, He gave us Bible verses and we make the best choices that we can based on them.
Personally, based on the verses given earlier, I believe that would it be a stumblingblock to other Christians if you engaged in any type of parade revelry, drinking alcoholic beverages for all to see and mock (these are common drinks during the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day, remember). More than anything, I believe you should wear orange and celebrate your Protestant (Bible-believing) heritage on March 17. You are not a Roman Catholic, so it does not make sense for you to make a “big deal” about, “I am wearing green for Saint Patrick’s Day!” Wear orange, and when people ask you why you do not have the “traditional green,” explain why (or just tell them to Google “Ireland’s tricolor flag”). It may be a wonderful opportunity for you to share the Lord Jesus Christ and the soul salvation found in Him!
Using the above applications of grace living (excerpts from Romans and 1 Corinthians), we can better understand what we should do in regards to Saint Patrick’s Day. It is a personal decision. While eating meat offered to idols is not so much an issue today, the principles of charity remain the same. If we use our liberty in Christ and offend other Christians with our actions, it is best not to engage in those activities again in their presence. If you think it would be in your best interest and the best interest of others to engage in Saint Patrick’s Day, then you are free to do so. Just keep in mind that some activities are not profitable to others or ourselves. Certain activities are not sins but weaker Christians may see them as sins, and we have to keep these precious people in mind.
Saint, if you do not believe you should participate in Saint Patrick’s Day, do not do it. “For whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b). Saint, if you want to participate in Saint Patrick’s Day, you are free to do so, just use your liberty in Christ with caution, exercising attentiveness to any Christians who may be offended, and exercising in grace accordingly!