Every year on March 17, most of us reach into our closets to pull out our favorite green outfits. You might even have a special clothing item you dust off for the occasion. But have you ever wondered why we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day? Of course, one reason is to avoid anyone pinching us per the playful tradition — but do you know why we follow along that slightly painful activity, too? It probably never occurred to you to even question any of it, but now you’re curious about the answers. Don’t worry, we won’t leave you hanging.
Ironically, according to the History Channel, the massive celebration for St. Patrick’s Day didn’t actually start in Ireland, but here in America. Folks in Ireland took the holiday much more seriously as a religious day, attending church and enjoying a modest feast afterward. There were no shades of green added to their food, drink, or clothing. To be fair, they likely had enough greenery surrounding them with natural beauty blanketing the country.
The color they associated with Irish pride was also originally blue, not green, until the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Military commander Owen Roe O’Neill notably led his troops while flying a green flag with a golden harp on it. They were ultimately defeated by Oliver Cromwell, but the color scheme seemed to stick. This was also helped by a ballad written around the time, “The Wearing of the Green,” which referred the color being banned by the British. Here’s a sample of the lyrics:
Oh, Paddy dear, did you hear the news that’s going ’round? The shamrock is forbid by law to grow on Irish ground Saint Patrick’s Day no more to keep, his color can’t be seen, for there’s a bloody law again’ the Wearing of the Green.
Before the rebellion, however, Irish-born soldiers brought the color green over with them to America. They traded red coats for green on St. Patrick’s Day during a march through New York City in 1762. That was the first ever official St. Patrick’s Day parade, which continues to be held each year to this day. When the Great Famine hit Ireland in the mid-1800s and thousands came over to the United States and Canada, they still embraced their native pride with celebrations on St. Patrick’s Day that eventually became the huge holiday we all know and love now. It wasn’t under much later that folks in Ireland and other parts of the world began donning their finest green duds and joined in the fun, too.
As for the pinching, tradition claims that leprechauns are blind to the color green and therefore can’t see (or pinch) anyone wearing it. That’s obviously a lot sillier than the actual history behind the holiday, but it’s still fun to play along with each year.