When St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17, we are once more reminded that spring is following close behind. However, this joyous holiday once held much more somber tones. The Roman Catholic Church originally created the day to honor St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. As a youth in fifth-century Roman-controlled Britain, he was kidnapped by Irish marauders and held as a slave for six years before escaping and returning home. After his conversion to Christianity, he felt led to return to his former enemies and spent the remainder of his life ministering to them.
Legend says that blue was originally identified as St. Patrick's color, but in the sixteenth century, green became the more popular choice for several reasons. Green is the color of the shamrock (clover) whose three leaves he used to teach the Trinity. Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle because of its lush green farmlands. Green is also in the Irish flag, and it is the representative color of the Irish Catholics of the country. Protestant-Irish citizens traditionally identify with orange.
Until the 1970s, Irish laws required all pubs to be closed on the 17th of March in honor of St. Patrick. Here in the United States, celebrating took a much different form. With the massive influx of Irish immigrants in the 1700s, the day was secularized with boisterous parades, beer kegs and parties, especially in Boston and New York City. By 1995, Ireland saw the potential tourist boost and began promoting St. Patrick's Day around the world. It is estimated that one million visitors will be in Dublin to celebrate this year, and the pubs will definitely be open.
For non-alcoholic celebrants, McDonald's offers its famous McCafe Shamrock Milkshake in February and March. Introduced in 1970, this mint-flavored green shake is always a seasonal success. To change the pace, some customers order half shamrock and half chocolate concoctions to create their own McLeprechaun shakes. Coffee lovers will find the popular Starbucks Shamrock Frappuccino back on the menu now as well. It is the result of adding peppermint syrup to a vanilla-bean frappuccino.
Tradition says that leprechauns cannot see the color green. Because they are known for pinching everyone they meet, wearing green is a strongly recommended preventative measure. Party America sells a variety of green clothing apparel in keeping with this holiday. A "St. Patrick's Day Green Sparkle Top Hat" is particularly festive. CoolGlow.com also sells makeup, party favors and tableware to celebrate in style. Party City offers several shamrock-patterned paper tableware products in "Lucky Shamrock" and "Playful Shamrock" styles. The "Festive Green" solid color table settings are perfect for that traditional corned beef and cabbage meal or for picnics and finger foods.
Because green presents itself in more shades than any other color, it has become a favorite branding color for companies such as H&R Block (money is green), Heineken (beer), The Masters Golf Tournament (greens are green) and John Deere (farmland). In fact, green is associated with many ideals and virtues, both positive and negative. It is the holy color of Islam because Mohammed is said to have worn a green cloak and turban, but when a man wears green in China, he is advertising to the world that his wife is being unfaithful. People who become "green around the gills" are nauseated, but Feng Shui enthusiasts believe green furnishings correct nervousness, absent-mindedness and bad manners.
In general, green is the color of rebirth, fertility, growth and, most recently, ecology. Whatever your reason for enjoying the season, the holiday and the color, be sure to wear some green. You never know where a leprechaun might be lurking!
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