Everyone knows that St. Patrick’s Day is a very, very green day. Everything that day is green, everything from the food to the faces of the people who celebrate it. But why is green such a big thing during St. Patrick’s Day? Why not the colour blue, which was the original national colour for the Irish? Presumably it is due to the vegetation in Ireland and due to the fact that the Irish are often associated with leprechauns and spring which are both green.
Here are ten reasons why green is so important on this holiday.
1. The Emerald Isle
Due to the greenness of the Irish countryside Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle. Thus naturally the day for the Irish would be celebrated in the colour green.
2. The Irish Flag – Unofficial
From 1798 until the early 20th century there was an unofficial flag that served as a symbol of nationalism. It had a golden harp on a green background. The revolutionary James Connolly, whose participation in the Easter Rebellion in 1916 led to his execution said:
“For centuries the green flag of Ireland was a thing accurst and hated by the English garrison in Ireland, as it is still in their inmost hearts...
...the green flag of Ireland will be solemnly hoisted over Liberty Hall as a symbol of our faith in freedom, and as a token to all the world that the working class of Dublin stands for the cause of Ireland, and the cause of Ireland is the cause of a separate and distinct nationality.”
Green stands for revolution.
4. The Irish Flag – Pre Independence
The Irish flag is orange, white and green. The Irish government has described the symbolism behind each colour in the following way: Green represents the Gaelic tradition of Ireland, orange represents the followers of King William III who was of the House of Orange in Ireland and white represents the aspiration to keep peace between the two. The flag in itself was created as a symbol of hope for an Ireland with truce between the two cultures and hope for a life in peace.
5. Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick
Green was the colour used for the mainly Protestant and non-sectarian group called Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick that was established in 1751.
Green is the colour of spring and when Patrick died on March 17th spring was just arriving and on his death day one usually tends to see the green grass and plants returning to the earth. Thus in a way St. Patrick’s Day, the green day, represents the return of spring and warmth.
The green shamrock represents faith, love, hope and much, much more but its greatest purpose was when Patrick used it convert the pagans to Christianity. It was used as a way for Patrick to teach the people about the Holy Trinity; how three things can be separate entities but still one and the same. He was successful and the pagan rulers found him convincing enough to convert to Christianity themselves. This was the grand task Patrick completed that later made him a Saint and appropriately enough, the symbol stuck with the Irish since then.
8. The Clover
Some say St. Patrick wore a three leaf clover pinned to his robe. It was however not a clover but the shamrock that was pinned to his robe as he went around converting pagans. The shamrock and the three leaf clover look a bit similar but the shamrock has three leaves and the clover has four. In other words people got them confused and then the image of Patrick wearing a three leaf clover just stuck - for the non-Irish people anyway.
4. Chicago River
In Chicago they decided, for over 50 years ago, to start dying the entire Chicago River green to increase interest in St. Patrick’s Day and to celebrate the day with nature. Though the tradition started when the city tried to detect illegal sewage dumpings and plumbers put fluroscein dye in the river which turned bright green if there was toxic waste in it. Nowadays the river is dyed with a harmless orange vegetable dye. When they dye the river it kind of looks like a green version of when the Nile turned into blood in the story of Moses.
5. Being pinched
There is a myth that says that if leprechauns catch you not sporting the green colour on St. Patrick’s Day then they will pinch you. The leprechaun comes from a well-known Irish myth of the chubby green-clad gnome (Catholicism mixed with Paganism) and it was made popular in America as a symbol for St. Patrick’s Day.
I think we can all agree that St. Patrick’s Day would sound like a happy celebration had it been known as the blue day, which is the national colour in Ireland. Perhaps it all worked out like this for a reason, so that the holiday would grow and bring all kinds of people from all kinds of cultures together in celebration. It became a holiday celebrating new beginnings and spring instead of a political holiday of sadness to remember the painful past and struggle of the Irish. It is important to remember what kind of past they had and how some Irish are still treated, and what brought on the day in the first place but it is even more important to be happy and see how far they have gotten today.
Whether it is the green day or the blue day kind of comes down to whether it is a day for celebrating being Irish or mourning the fate of being ill-treated as Irish. On St. Patrick’s Day all kinds of people come together to celebrate the Irish and I think that, in the same way Pride is important to the LGBT community, St. Patrick’s Day is crucial to the Irish community. Even though green actually used to be the unlucky colour in Ireland and even though the four leaf clover is an unlucky symbol and not the correct one (the shamrock is) it is an important celebration because whichever way we use to bring people together in mutual understanding is a reason worthwhile.
Have a happy and green St. Patrick’s Day!