Why Do We Wear Green On St. Patrick's Day? A Brief History Behind This Tradition

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The other week, I took a train ride into New York to see a show, and accidentally climbed aboard a train of loud, young frat boys dressed in green for St. Patrick's Day. I checked my calendar to make sure that I didn't accidentally travel through time (I mean, it was only March 5), and then realized that somewhere, somehow, a St. Patrick's Day event was taking place close to the city. It seems like the entire month of March is dedicated towards emerald-shaded clothing, beer, and general merriment.

While I wanted to cheer the second these hooligans exited the train, I did realize that it was strange how I predicted their event based on one single factor — their green clothes. I looked down and realized that my own gray and blue sweater was a huge indication that I wasn't part of their crew. These kids took up more than one train car, and had walked through the aisle of the moving train to greet people near and far who were also en route to the parade — obviously, they only approached others who were openly dressed for the occasion.

Why do we wear green on St. Patrick's Day? It's one of my favorite colors, but how did it become tied to the patron saint of Ireland? Or even leprechauns?

It turns out there's a boatload of reasons as to why green is the color of choice for the holiday. Originally, the official color of the St. Patrick's Day was blue (which means that I would have dealt with a lot more train harassment), but green began to dominate based on Ireland being known as "The Emerald Isle," as well as the fact that the flag of Ireland also contains a stripe of green. Religiously, a lot of Irish Catholics are known to wear green, while Protestants celebrate the holiday in orange. If you look at the flag, a stripe of white separates the two colors, thus white resembles "peace" between each set of religious beliefs. Pretty insightful, if you ask me.

Now onto the leprechauns. Obviously every leprechaun we've seen is wearing a green get-up, thus distinguishing them as such in Irish folklore. It's believed that leprechauns pinch those who aren't wearing the color, which has developed into others pinching people to remind them that leprechauns wouldn't approve of their non-green apparel. (As someone who hates being pinched, this is reason enough to throw on a green shirt.) This is actually an American-based tradition, as leprechauns were first imagined to have been wearing red jackets and red pointed hats, free of shamrocks. The leprechaun itself is a legendary creature that has gotten quite a makeover as years have gone by. Back in the day, they were kind of jerks, and would have probably used non-television-approved maneuvers to make sure that kids didn't even think about stealing their Lucky Charms.

Speaking of shamrocks, they're yet another reason as to why we wear green. The shamrock itself represents the father, son, and the holy spirit within its three leaves, and were used by St. Patrick to teach others about the basics regarding the Holy Trinity. Shamrocks are green, and also represent the season of spring. Some find them to be lucky, as well. Thus, it makes sense to represent the shamrock by wearing green, to pay tribute to the religious aspect, the seasonal aspect, and to the man himself.

It's amazing to see how much the holiday has evolved. Back in the day, only those in Ireland celebrated St. Patrick's Day, and it usually included a feast and a trip to church. Now, it's celebrated with green clothes, drunken debauchery, and immense pride of the country — after all, everyone is a little bit Irish on St. Patrick's Day.

As you wear your green clothes and drink your green beer at your favorite bar this holiday, remember why green is such a powerful color — not only will it save you from getting pinched by a weird stranger, but it'll remind you of the many positive aspects of Ireland.

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