The Luck of the Irish


When you think of St. Patrick’s Day, you most likely think of leprechauns, a pot of gold, and wearing green to avoid getting pinched. You probably wear all-green once a year to celebrate this holiday, never knowing why you’re doing so. Most people don’t actually know the origin of this holiday, or why any of these traditions came around. Not to worry, I have all the information you need to understand why we honor someone named St. Patrick, why we connect little leprechauns with this holiday, and why we pinch people who don’t wear green. 

March 17th celebrates the life of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who is believed to have died on March 17th in the year 461. Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britain, where he was kidnapped at 16 years old before being brought to Ireland as a slave. After escaping slavery, he is said to have returned to Ireland, and is credited with bringing Christianity to the Irish. One of the most famous stories about him is that of the shamrock. The legend goes that Saint Patrick used a shamrock to describe the three persons of the Holy Trinity to a non-believer, which led to the Irish wearing shamrocks, the national flower of Ireland, on their clothes to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. This holiday is an opportunity to remember the life of a very important man in Ireland’s history, though its celebrations have spread across the world. 

The Irish have been observing this holiday since the 9th or 10th century, but the first St. Patrick’s Day parade wasn’t until 1601 in a Spanish colony in present day St. Augustine, Florida. After this first parade, the celebrations grew, and over the years several “Irish Aid” societies were founded to organize and host parades and other celebrations. In 1848, several New York Irish Aid societies united their parades to form one official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which is the world’s oldest civilian parade and, with 150,000 participants, the largest in the United States. Many other places around the world have unique ways of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, including Chicago, where 40 pounds of green dye are poured into the Chicago River to turn the river completely green for a day. Though this holiday began as an Irish holiday, its importance has grown throughout the world, and many special celebrations are held every year. 

You’re probably thinking, where do the leprechauns come in? The answer is, they actually have nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day. Both leprechauns and St. Patrick’s Day have Irish origins, so over time they became associated with each other. Some people think of leprechauns for St. Patrick’s Day because this holiday is a day of good fortune, and a leprechaun’s pot of gold is rumored to be good luck. Leprechauns also contribute to why people wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. This tradition was started in the 17th century by Irish immigrants who believed that wearing green made them invisible to leprechauns, who would pinch anyone they saw. They eventually began to pinch people who didn’t wear green to remind those people that the leprechauns could pinch them at any time, and this sparked the tradition of wearing green or being pinched. Though leprechauns actually have no historical connection to St. Patrick’s Day, they have become connected to this holiday because of developing traditions and the growing popularity of Irish celebrations.