Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wearing Green on St. Patrick's Day

When I was growing up, St. Patrick's Day was all about wearing green. Dashing off to school, my brother, sister and I would check to be sure that whatever green clothing or accessories we had selected to wear to the school that day were highly visible. Had to. It was more of a matter of self defense than anything else against those who took great pleasure in pinching anyone who was not wearing green.

According to some, the tradition of St. Patrick's Day which is rooted in Ireland before the 1600's, offered a 'reprise' from Lent, the forty day period of fasting that precedes Easter in the Catholic tradition. It was on this day that people could drink alcohol and indulge in a variety of merrymaking activities.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area many people - Irish or not - flock to the bars and saloons of San Francisco where they often bar hop until they can't hop anymore.

But I don't think that was the original plan for this Saint's day.

Patrick (AD 387–461)is the most commonly recognized of the patron saints of Ireland. Born in Roman Britain in the fifth century was a deacon in the Church like his father before him. At the age of sixteen he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken captive to Ireland as a slave. In time he fled captivity and boarded a ship that returned him to England where he promptly became a priest.

A bishop in 432 he returned to Ireland to save the Irish, rich and poor alike.Irish folklore tells that one of his teaching methods included using the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) to the Irish people.

Records show that in 1903, Saint Patrick's Day became an official public holiday in Ireland. The first Saint Patrick's Day parade held in the Irish Free State was held in Dublin in 1931 and in the mid-1990s that the Irish government began a campaign to use Saint Patrick's Day to showcase Ireland and its culture.

Having no known Irish bones in my body, I easily accepted our PG rated Americanized version of St. Patrick's Day and happily wore something green to school. I looked forward to the delicious corned beef and cabbage my mother made that day each year. A first generation American from Rhodes (the Spanish Jewish quarter), she delighted in all American holidays regardless of their religious beginnings. So we celebrated St. Patrick's Day hoping the 'luck of the Irish' would shine down upon us!


  1. Thanks for sharing the historical information, Karen. Any holiday that allows us to avoid Lent and drink beer is a good occasion! ;)


  2. Robert, that's what I hear about Lent...
    best, Karen

  3. It's amusing how easily we embrace holidays without really knowing the reason that we celebrate! I wonder how many people drinking margaritas in May are able to share the significance of Cinco de Mayo or if the kids collecting candy on Halloween know how that holiday started. I admit it, though, I still enjoy embracing the fun traditions each holiday has to offer.

  4. Thanks for sharing this bit of history. I remember as a child one of my teachers having a fit when one of the girls (who wasn't Irish) wore orange to school on St. Patrick's Day. While wearing green is a fun custom, it's too bad those who choose not to wear green are singled out.

  5. James,
    Festivities and celebrations are a cultural hallmark. Every community has them and those events that survive integration are the ones that can be transformed into activities for those outside of the "group" they originated with.
    Such is the modern world! I agree with you that most of us are just happy to have them... and if we're lucky we'll add our meaning to them!

  6. Penny,
    OUCH! What a horrible experience... Who knows what other damages that same teacher was responsible for!

  7. Thanks for sharing the historical origin of St. Patrick's Day! I, too, always wore green to school to avoid being pinched.

    Happy Friday,
    Allison Maslan

  8. Allison,
    Those were the days!
    Today I barely remember to wear green and yet am pleasantly surprised by the sea of green around me on March 17!