In America, St Patrick’s Day is a day of shamrocks, leprechauns and green beer. We dye the Chicago River green in celebration and more than 100 parades are held across the United States Wear something green or you’ll get pinched… Needless to say, it’s a big day. But, why?
Have you ever wondered about the history of St. Patrick’s Day?
Well, as you probably could have guessed, St. Patrick’s Day is a day to honor Saint Patrick on the anniversary of his death, March 17th. Patrick lived during the fifth century and is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland. He wasn’t actually Irish, though. Born in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16. He later escaped but eventually returned to Ireland and is credited with introducing Christianity to the Irish people.
In the centuries following Patrick’s death, the mythology became more and more surrounding Irish culture. One of the most well-known legends is that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of an Irish clover, also known as a shamrock.
Irish history aside, the first parade to honor Saint Patrick was held not in Ireland, but in the United States, in 1762. Throughout the years, the holiday has become little about Saint Patrick and more about celebrating the traditions of Ireland.
Why all the green?
In reality, the color traditionally associated with Saint Patrick is blue, not green. However, green is one of the three colors in the Irish flag and has been used in the flags of several Irish revolutionary groups throughout history. Ireland is also known as the “Emerald Isle” due to its lush green landscape. As St. Patrick’s Day has evolved to celebrate all things Irish, green has become the holiday’s official color.
Pinch me, I’m Irish
Why are you destined to get pinched if you forget to wear green on March 17th? Was Saint Patrick a pincher? Not in the slightest. This is entirely an American tradition. It’s silly, really. Legend says that wearing green would make one invisible to leprechauns and people began pinching those sans green as a reminder that leprechauns could do the same.
Today, we think of leprechauns as rosy-cheeked, short little men with orange hair wearing green clothes and singing Irish folklore. The history of leprechauns can be traced back to an Irish fairy, Cluricaune known as “a cunning spirit who haunts cellars and plays tricks” and traditionally, they were depicted wearing red. Leprechauns in green weren’t portrayed until the 20th century invention when green became the token color for all things Irish. One of the most interesting things about leprechauns is that if you manage to catch one, they will grant you three wishes in exchange for freedom. Happy hunting!
So, what’s with the pot of gold?
Basically, it’s just another traditional Irish legend that somehow got looped into a symbol St. Patrick’s Day. Throughout Old Europe, the Irish used to say that “fairies put a pot of gold at the end of each rainbow with leprechauns guarding it”. It really has nothing to do with Saint Patrick or his legacy.