St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner on March 17th. Many of us will celebrate by wearing green, eating corned beef and cabbage, going to parties and perhaps imbibing a little. But what do we really know about the origins, legends and traditions surrounding this day?
St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He is thought to have been born in England or Scotland around the end of the 4th century AD. He was abducted by pirates in Wales and sold into slavery in Ireland. After some years he escaped to Britain, then France, where he joined a monestary. When he was bishop, he dreamed that he was supposed to go back to Ireland to tell them about God. There, he converted the Gaelic Irish to Christianity.
There are many legends associated with St Patrick. It is said that he used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the concept of the Trinity; which refers to the combination of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, which is where the association between clover and St. Patrick’s Day began. Legend also tells of Saint Patrick putting the curse of God on venomous snakes in Ireland and driving all the snakes into the sea where they drowned.
Patrick’s mission in Ireland lasted for over 20 years. He died on March 17, AD 461. That day has been commemorated as St. Patrick’s Day ever since.
What began as a religious feast day for the patron saint of Ireland has become an international festival celebrating Irish culture with parades, dancing, special foods and a whole lot of green.
The traditional color associated with St. Patrick was blue, not green. Over time green took over in popularity due to Ireland’s nickname as “The Emerald Isle”, the green in the Irish flag and the clover that St. Patrick used in his teachings about Catholicism. People started picking clover to wear in their lapel on St. Patrick’s Day and thus began the tradition of “wearing green”.
On the holiday, people in Ireland do not wear as much green or celebrate quite as wildly as revelers do elsewhere, although there is a legend that leprechauns will pinch anyone they can see. It was believed that wearing green makes you invisible to leprechauns. Pinching someone who is not wearing green was done as a reminder that the leprechauns might sneak up and pinch you. This is actually mainly an American tradition.
Leprechauns are a type of fairy, often described as wizened, bearded old men dressed in green and wearing buckled shoes, a pointed cap or hat and may be smoking a pipe. The leprechaun is a roguish trickster figure who cannot be trusted and will deceive whenever possible.
Leprechauns are often thought to be shoemakers, but also associated with riches and gold. Shoemaking is apparently a lucrative business in the fairy world, since each leprechaun is said to have his own pot of gold, which can often be found at the end of a rainbow.
According to Irish legends, people lucky enough to find a leprechaun and capture him (or, in some stories, steal his magical ring, coin or amulet) can barter his freedom for his treasure. Leprechauns are usually said to be able to grant the person three wishes. But dealing with leprechauns can be a tricky proposition.
This can be very difficult. First, you have to find one. Leprechauns can sense when they are being hunted, and hide themselves all the better. Those who find leprechauns always stumble upon them, and the leprechaun is usually more surprised than the human. You might hear them tapping softly on a shoe or just stumble across one in the woods. You really just have to be lucky. When you find a leprechaun, all you have to do to keep him under your control is never let your eyes off him. You can set him down, and as long as your eyes never leave him, he is yours to keep. This is much harder than it seems.
A leprechaun who is caught must grant you three wishes. Almost everyone uses one wish to ask for the leprechaun’s pot of gold. Carefully think of what you want your other two wishes to be. Remember the leprechaun is a tricky fellow. Above all, never make a fourth wish. The leprechaun might ask you what you’d like for your fourth wish, but it’s a trick. The fourth wish destroys the other three.
However you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, stay safe, and above all, have a wonderful time.
“May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light,and may good luck pursue you each morning and night.” - Traditional Irish Toast