St. Patrick’s Day | How That Whole Snakes Thing Got Started

As kids, the traditions of St. Patrick’s Day were simple. Wear green (else get pinched!), eat shamrock-shaped cookies, and repeat the erroneous story about how St. Patrick (c. 5th century A.D.) once drove the snakes out of Ireland. Of course, we all now know that Ireland has never hosted a native snake population. There may be a few in Irish zoos, but they’re just visiting. 

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The story goes that St. Patrick, while observing a Lenten fast, was attacked by snakes during his silent meditation. He rose up and drove the snakes into the sea, ridding Ireland of the slithery little bastards once and for all. This is only a legend, of course. Indeed, the real St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish. He was British. He also wasn’t always pious. He became a Christian when he was abducted as a slave. His saintly duties included bringing Christianity to the Emerald Isle after a decree from God. 

So how did the whole snake thing get started? Well, since modern readers seem to be uncomfortable with poetry and metaphor, the snakes in question tend to be pictured as literal snaked. Little scaly animals. In more ancient texts, St. Patrick’s driving of snakes from Ireland was actually his ability to drive evil out. Serpents have long been a symbol of corruption in ancient literature (See: Genesis. Not the band), and St. Patrick’s ability to spread the peaceful word of Jesus was seen as an expulsion of evil. Or snakes. 

As for the shamrock thing, the legend says that St. Patrick used them to describe the Holy Trinity. Three Gods, three cloverleaves. That one is pretty much still in practice today. As for green beer, there is no mention in any legend of St. Patrick’s capacity for drinking great quantities. That’s a tradition that started as recently as the 1970s, and mainly in America. 

But the modern traditions have stuck, and we can think of no reason to curtail them. If you’re of age, try some fine beers (stay away from the green stuff). If you want a nice Irish drink, try some Bushmills. Wear green. Pinch friends. Wear shamrocks. Celebrate your Irish heritage, no matter how tenuous. But know that the snake thing was never really a thing. 

Top Image: TriMark Pictures

Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at@WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.