On St. Patrick’s Day, some of us will be wearing green and trying to avoid being pinched, while others may cook corned beef and cabbage or go to our local pub and drink beer while singing “The Unicorn Song.” Whatever we decide to do on St. Paddy’s Day, most of us will have lots of fun with all the traditions that come with this day.
Here’s an attempt to make some sense of the crazy stuff we do on March 17:
About the guy and the day.
St. Patrick wasn’t Irish. You read it right. Patrick was an English nobleman who was kidnapped by Irish pirates when he was just a teenager. While enslaved in Ireland, young Patrick developed a strong religious faith, and after escaping his enslavement, returned to Ireland as a missionary. March 17 is purported to be the day of his death. Irish immigrants to the U.S. turned the day from a Roman Catholic holiday into a secular one when they began holding parades through the streets to declare their Irish pride and make a political statement about their inferior social status in this country.
The wearing of the green.
On St. Paddy’s Day, we typically don at least one article of green clothing and pinch those who refuse to play along. But why green exactly? Several groups revolting against the British crown in the 1600s chose green to symbolize their independence—as opposed to the blue that represented Ireland and was associated with St. Patrick at the time. Plus, green is one of the colors in the Irish tri-color flag and the color of the verdant Irish landscape, hence the name “Emerald Isle.” Irish immigrants popularized the tradition of wearing green in the U.S., claiming that green made one invisible to leprechauns, who would mischievously pinch anyone not wearing the color.
Kiss me, I’m Irish.
Maybe you’ve heard of kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle and how it gives you the power of eloquent speech. Well, if you can’t get to Blarney Castle, kissing someone who is Irish apparently is the next best thing. And because many of us in the U.S. have at least a tiny bit of Irish blood in us, this tradition gives us license to kiss and be kissed with abandon on St. Patrick’s Day.
Bacon and cabbage?
The traditional St. Paddy’s Day meal of corned beef and cabbage doesn’t trace its roots to Ireland at all, but instead originated in this country. A traditional meal for the Irish is and has been for quite a while bacon, cabbage and potatoes. When the Irish began immigrating to the U.S., they had a bit more money and splurged on corned beef made by the Jewish butchers in their neighborhoods. Therefore, the corned beef we eat today has a Jewish provenance, rather than an Irish one.
The luck of the Irish.
When you think of St. Patrick’s Day, you probably think of shamrocks. What do those little clovers have to do with the holiday anyway? The legend says that St. Patrick himself used a shamrock, or three-leaf clover, to teach the Druids about the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The interesting bit of trivia here is while all shamrocks are clovers, a four-leaf clover, while considered the luckiest of clovers, isn’t a shamrock.