Every American knows about the Feast of St. Patrick on March 17. And most Americans believe the Irish deserve to have green beer once a year because they are the largest immigrant group in the American Catholic Church. Except that the largest immigrant group in the American Catholic Church is, in fact, the Germans. And the patron saint of Germany is St. Boniface, whose feast is today.
Boniface is the patron saint of Germany and of brewers everywhere.
So why isn’t June 5, like March 17, a de facto national holiday? Perhaps it’s because Irish are thought of as entertaining and Germans are thought of as industrious. Maybe revelers fear that a St. Boniface Day might involve mass sidewalk sweeping and group window cleaning or all-night ironing parties. They can imagine the cry, “It’s St. Boniface day! Let’s all pay our bills! Let’s all weed the garden! Let’s haul out the trash!”
But be of good cheer. First, Boniface isn’t a native German. He was born in England, right next door to Ireland, where he was a Benedictine abbot. He left his abbey in 719 for Germany, the first missionary to that country, and spent the rest of his life converting the Germanic tribes to Christianity. One of his ongoing battles involved convincing the people that trees, though made by God, are not gods. The story is told that, in front of a crowd threatening to become a mob, he took an axe to the Oak of Thor, a sacred tree on Mount Gudenburg. The tree fell into four parts, but Boniface was left standing. It was a most effective homily, and Germans from all over became followers of Christ. Boniface, who must have been influenced by the Germans as well, did a very thrifty thing. He gathered up the remains of the oak and used the wood to build the first German Christian church, of which, he became the bishop. Happily, unlike Patrick and the snakes, Boniface did not drive the trees from Germany. Unhappily, some angry pagans later killed Bishop Boniface by stabbing him as he read the Gospels.
Boniface is the patron saint of Germany and of brewers everywhere. So pour yourself a beer (maybe a nice Warsteiner or Carlsberg, or even a Shiner Bock or a Sierra Nevada Kellerweis) and let’s get this party started!