I just discovered that my daughter dislikes St. Patrick’s Day almost as much as I did as a kid, and for the same reason. The dreaded pinch. It was the fear that I’d forget to wear green on the designated day, and end up getting pinched from mean spirited kids until I was covered in black and blue marks.
I was fortunate that I grew up in Southern Oregon. There’s always a hefty amount of green in the wardrobe of anyone south of Corvallis, so usually I lucked out. But still, there were days when I ended up running from other kids, screaming, “I’m wearing green underwear!” trying to avoid that pinch.
I laid heavy curses upon the Irish person with the sadistic streak that I imagined must’ve conjured up this ridiculous tradition. And then there’s the rest of the way the holiday is spent: drinking copious amounts of green beer, eating corned beef & cabbage, and paying homage to 4-leaf clovers and leprechauns.
That is, until I once asked an actual Irish citizen why they weren’t wearing green on the most holy of all Irish holidays. He looked at me funny, like he had no idea what I was talking about. I said, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll get pinched?” Another funny look. He honestly had no idea what I was talking about, and I was floored.
Turns out that in Ireland, they don’t do that.
We do that.
Or rather, they didn’t do that at the time, and if they do it now, they probably got the idea from us.
A little St. Patrick’s Day history
St. Paddy’s Day has been around since the 1700’s, when the Knights of St. Patrick wanted to honor the country’s most recognizable patron saint who brought Christianity to the celts and converted the Irish to Roman Catholicism. So the main idea behind this holiday – in the place where it all began – is going to church (and I don’t mean getting so drunk that you end up praying to the porcelain god).
Restrictions on drinking alcohol for Lent are lifted at this time, so it’s understandable that there are some overindulgences taking place not just in Ireland but all over the world on this day. But over the long run, drinking was probably been a more minor part of the celebration in Ireland than in any of the other countries that recognize St. Paddy’s. In fact, for many years, pubs and bars were legally ordered to close on March 17th in Ireland (simply to keep the drinking from getting out of control), although that practice stopped in the 1970’s.
The Color Green
There is a lot of green to be worn. But just like with any Oregon Ducks fan, I imagine much of the Irish population could be found wearing green on any given day in the year. But other than that the day was traditionally recognized by attending church services, not running around pinching people for not wearing green.
Other Random St. Patrick’s Day Trivia
St. Patrick’s Day has only been a national holiday in Ireland since 1903, but it wasn’t until 16 years ago that Ireland began a campaign to capitalize on St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate Irish culture with a huge festival encompassing lavish parades (which supposedly they also got from us), fireworks and concerts. So today it is more of a secular holiday, although church leaders are less than impressed that leprechauns and shamrocks are getting all the credit instead of a 4th century priest who watches over engineers, Boston, New York City, Nigeria and (of course) Ireland.
There’s a good chance that the following assertions I’m about to make are full of blarney, because my source is a couple of spurious sites on the great world wide web. But I’ve heard that while we traditionally eat corned beef & cabbage, the dish of choice on March 17th in Ireland is Irish bacon and cabbage. Turning the water green? That started in Chicago in 1962. Turning the beer green? That started here too. In Ireland they’d rather drink it black (as in Guinness).
I’ve also heard that leprechauns were not used as a symbol of St. Patrick’s Day until the Disney film “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” was released, and probably made even more popular with “Finian’s Rainbow.”
And…..To Wrap It Up
Well my fellow pinchaphobics (I made that up. Can you believe that there is not a scientific term for the fear of being pinched? Preposterous), what it comes down to is that we created this monster, not the Irish. I don’t know how to go about undoing the horrible thing we’ve done to our nation’s children by basically bullying them into wearing a certain color on March 17th or suffer the slightly painful consequences. Can we slowly undo this tradition that’s popped up in the past 50 years or so? I don’t know. But instead of wearing green this year, I think I’ll just throw a pinch of salt over my shoulder and hope for a little bit of Irish luck instead. In the meantime, enjoy today’s playlist, a mixture of songs about all things green or Irish, and there’s even a bit of Gaelic sprinkled in. Éirinn go Brách!
Check out the Grooveshark Playlist
Valerie Ing-Miller has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for nine years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She’s the mother of a teenage daughter and a 7-year-old West Highland Terrier, and can’t imagine life without them or music. Valerie wakes up with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.