Why Do We Wear Green on St. Patrick’s Day?

Green wasn't even St. Patrick's Day's original color!

They say that the whole world is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day! Or at least, the whole world adopts a certain version of Irish culture. Every March 17, we break out our green clothing and jewelry, wear four-leaf clover-shaped pins and glasses, and dye our rivers, bagels, and beverages (particularly alcoholic ones) green. Although these St. Patrick’s Day traditions seem timeless, it’s not the way the day has always been celebrated. Fortunately, the luck of the Irish applies all year round, and March 17 is a good time to reflect on the luck you’ve had (or draw some more in) with some St. Patrick’s Day quotes. But once you’ve dunked your shamrock and donned your green top hat, you may be left wondering why exactly we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. The answer is a little more complicated than you may think.

Why do we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day?

One of the reasons we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day is because of Ireland’s nickname, The Emerald Isle. The green stripe in the Irish flag also played a role. Traditionally, the green represents the Catholics of Ireland, the orange represents the Protestant population, and the white in the middle symbolizes the peace between the two religions.

The religious symbolism doesn’t stop there. St. Patrick is thought to have used green shamrocks to teach people about the Holy Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit), another justification for greenifying everything.

Of course, we can’t talk about St. Patrick’s Day without mentioning leprechauns. Back in the day, these mischievous little guys were said to wear red and gold jackets with pointy red hats. Now they’re rarely seen in anything other than green, and, legend has it, they pinch anyone not wearing their favorite color. Rude! But probably reason enough to wear green, even if it’s just your socks. Make sure you have some of these St. Patrick’s Day jokes up your sleeve before the holiday rolls around.

Why did we stop wearing blue on St. Patrick’s Day?

Early depictions of St. Patrick show him wearing blue, and the official color of the Order of St. Patrick, part of Ireland’s chivalry, was a sky blue known as “St. Patrick’s Blue.” The blue symbolism dates back to early Irish mythology as Flaitheas Éireann, the symbol of Irish sovereignty (think Uncle Sam), was depicted with a woman in a blue dress, but the first official association with the color blue was when Henry VIII took the throne. He declared himself King of Ireland, making it part of England. As time went on, the people of Ireland weren’t fans of this arrangement and rebelled using St. Patrick’s shamrock as a symbol of their identity, making green the symbol of Irish culture. This may be good background information to know while you tune in to some Irish movies.

Is it offensive to wear orange on St. Patrick’s Day?

While St. Patrick’s Day is a Roman Catholic holiday, not all the people of Ireland are Catholic. Many of the Irish are actually Protestant. Irish Catholic tradition is associated with the color green as we mentioned earlier, but Irish Protestant tradition is associated with orange. This stems from William of Orange, the Protestant king who overthrew the Roman Catholic King James the second. Even though Orange was a place, the Protestants used the color orange to show their loyalty. So while St Patrick’s Day is about celebrating Irish culture and solidarity, there is a little bit of a historical divide. Both green and orange are represented in the Irish flag to illustrate the peaceful coexistence between the two, but you probably shouldn’t wear orange, as it represents loyalty to the English. Now that you know why we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, learn why we say Erin go Bragh.

Sources:

  • History.com: “History of St. Patrick’s Day”
  • Smithsonian Magazine: “Should We Be Wearing Blue on St. Patrick’s Day?”
  • KTBS: “Orange Irish: Why some prefer orange to green on St. Patrick’s Day”

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