I grew up in New Jersey. There are a lot of Irish in New Jersey. St. Patrick’s Day was always a pretty big deal, even if you weren’t Irish. Parades, wearing of the green, pubs, and a bit of fisticuffs were what made the day memorable.
Then I moved out west. For the first time I learned that if you weren’t wearing green you got pinched. (But who wouldn’t wear green? Well, now I was surrounded by people who were not as Irish as back east.)
Meanwhile, back in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day was a holy day. Pubs closed, good Catholics went to church. However, that has changed, probably due to tourism. Did you know that over 34 million Americans claim Irish ancestors? Add the Canadians, Australians, New Zealander’s and others, and that’s a lot of tourists wanting to visit the old country. Now, St. Patrick’s Day is more festive. They have parades, pubs are open, and Irish culture is honored.
The first St. Paddy’s Day parade was held in NYC in the 1760s by Irishmen in the English army. The parade later became a show of strength for Catholics who felt outnumbered by Protestants.
The pinching is supposed to represent Leprechauns, sneaky little creatures that they are, who pinch you for not wearing green and being proud of the Irish.
Why wear green anyway? Since Leprechauns are green and/or wear green, you can become invisible when you wear it. Those of you choosing not to wear green are seen by said wee folk and so…you get pinched.
On a darker note, green was the color worn by the Irish in rebellion against the English. The first color of Ireland was blue. Later, one of the rebel groups wore green. It was a way that they could identify members. The English, after catching on, would imprison or hang anyone wearing green, so it became a great symbol of Irish resistance. (Speaking Irish could also get you sent to prison or hung. I guess a lot of things did; being Catholic, adding windows to your house, wanting to have your own country…)
Orange is the color for Protestants, due to William of Orange. I recall a few St. Patrick’s Day parades where those wearing green and those wearing orange would converge and literally battle it out.
St. Patrick was actually, scholars believe, English. He was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland as a slave. He escaped and returned, bringing Christianity to Ireland. 17 March 461 is the day many believe he died.
Though credited for ridding Ireland of snakes, he did not, as there were never any snakes in Ireland to begin with.
Being Irish in America is the second largest immigrant group. I thought Italian was first, but then, I did grow up in New Jersey. But no, German is number one.
So, if you’re Irish, part Irish, wish you were Irish, support Ireland, have a great St. Patrick’s Day!
(Corned Beef and Cabbage with Irish Soda bread – yum!)