Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, which means that you better have some green on you, or be prepared to suffer through painful pinches all day long! That of course is only one of the fun traditions of this Irish holiday. Others include extensive searches for lucky four-leaf clovers and leprechauns that lead to pots of gold. So who is St. Patrick whose death anniversary is celebrated with such abandon, and how did all these fun traditions start? Read on . . .
Though St. Patrick's day is one of Ireland's biggest celebrations, the man responsible for it was not Irish! Born somewhere along the west coast of Great Britain in 385 AD, he was kidnapped at the tender age of 16 and sold to an Irish sheep farmer. Fortunately, he managed to escape at the age of 22 and return to Britain, where he spent 12 years in a monastery. In his early 30's, Patrick decided to go back to Ireland as a missionary where he remained, until his death on March 17th, 461 AD. According to historians, Patrick was largely forgotten for hundreds of years and it was not until the 7th century that his memory was revived and honored as a Patron Saint of Ireland.
While St. Patrick's Day is now a national holiday and celebrated for almost a week in Ireland, it was first observed in 1732, in Boston, Massachusetts, to allow Irish soldiers serving in the American revolutionary war to reconnect with their country. Over the years, the holiday's popularity has spread all across the world. This year, over 100 landmark sites and buildings including China's Great Wall, Great Britain's London Eye, Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa and Sydney's Opera House, will all be illuminated in green, to mark this special occasion.
Blue Not Green, Was the Original Color
Given that several paintings of the saint depicted him in blue vestments, that was the original color associated with the holiday. Green was adopted in the 19th century, because it represents spring and the lush color of Ireland which is often referred to as 'Emerald Isle'.
As for 'pinching' people not wearing green? Nobody knows how that began. Some speculate that this American tradition stems from the fact that pinching leaves behind a green bruise, whilst others attribute it to a myth that wearing green makes one invisible to leprechauns. The pinch is meant as a reminder to be vary of the wily creatures for those not wearing the right color.
The Lucky Four-Leaf Clover
The people of Ireland believe that finding a four leaf clover, whose leaves represent hope, faith, love and happiness, brings good luck. But with only one in 10,000 clovers meeting the criteria, they sure are not easy to locate. Having said that, there are clovers known to sport many more leaves as evidenced by the Guinness Book of World Records where the highest number of leaves on a single clover is listed as 14! So be sure to at least try seek one out.
Catching the Sneaky Leprechaun
According to Irish mythology, the leprechaun, (whose name comes from the mixture of 'small person' and 'one shoemaker') is a small fairy that knows the location of a pot of gold. However to get to the treasure, one has to locate, catch and even threaten the sneaky little guy. But that does not seem to stop people from trying, year after year.
President Obama is Partly Irish!
Turns out that thanks to his mother's Irish heritage, US President Barack Obama, is partly Irish. Not surprisingly, he joins in the celebrations too. On Friday March, 14th, the President and First Lady hosted an early St. Patrick's day reception where they exchanged shamrocks with the Prime Minster of Ireland. They also maintained the age-old tradition of transforming the White House fountain into an emerald green!
Happy St. Patrick's Day!