Many nations celebrate a national holiday - a day that defines their nation. Often the anniversary of a significant historical event that represents a seismic shift in a nation's history.
In the United States, where I live, the Fourth of July is celebrated as the day Jefferson's Declaration of Independence was signed; a document that reflected on the philosophical underpinnings for the right to declare independence from Britain.
The French, celebrate July Fourteenth, Bastille Day, the storming of the Bastille - a celebration of the power of the people.
The Irish, and this is most relevant to me, being born and bred in Ireland, choose to celebrate St. Patrick's Day as our national holiday. For those who associate every March 17th solely with green rivers, Guinness, Irish dancers wearing curly wigs, and Kiss Me I'm Irish t-shirts, let me provide some brief information on St. Patrick.
Patrick was born in Roman Britain. He was kidnapped and brought to Ireland where he lived as a slave for many years. He eventually escaped but returned to tell the Irish about Christianity. None of this would be very remarkable, except that his return had an extraordinary effect.
Here is an excerpt from his confession, which he wrote before his death:
How is it that in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God; the sons of the Irish and the daughters of the chieftains are to be seen as monks and virgins of Christ. (1)
The island of Ireland embraced the Christian faith that Patrick brought and abandoned the religion of the druids. Some have a tendency to think that Christianity was historically imposed by imperial power - Patrick was not accompanied by a large military force. His message that challenged the prevailing social order was freely accepted by the Irish.
So, March 17th celebrates a dramatic paradigm shift in the national consciousness of Ireland - a national day of freedom if you will.
Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona Daoibh…
(1) St. Patrick's Confession available at http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick#The_Confession_.28c._452.3F.29