What’s with pinching others on Saint Patrick’s Day?


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This festive image includes a Leprechaun hat and a lot of green, which are traditional St. Patrick’s Day symbols. Photo retrieved from iStock.

Audra Gullquist, Layout and Design Manager

When you first think about Saint Patrick’s Day, you probably picture big parties, lots of green, shamrocks, leprechauns, gold and getting pinched for not wearing green. However, the origin of Saint Patrick’s Day is much more than that. Although Saint Patrick was Catholic, the holiday is now seen more as a celebration of Irish culture rather than Catholicism. 

Saint Patrick was a bishop and missionary in Ireland during the fifth century A.D.. He was very influential in spreading the Catholic beliefs throughout Ireland. His importance in the Catholic faith led to a holiday called Saint Patrick’s Day to commemorate Catholicism in Ireland. The day was originally spent feasting and celebrating but was not a formal holiday until the 1700s. However, there are a few myths surrounding the origin of Saint Patrick’s Day. The most popular myth is that Saint Patrick was attacked by snakes during a 40-day feast. He then drove all of the snakes out of Ireland and into the sea. Legend says this is why there are no snakes in Ireland! 

Although Saint Patrick lived in Ireland, he was not Irish. His birthplace is unknown but it is assumed that he was born in either Britain or Wales. He was taken from his home and was enslaved by pirates for six years. After he was freed, he moved to Ireland and became a missionary. Even though he was not born in Ireland, his love for the country eventually became a holiday. There are also no accounts of Saint Patrick wearing green. However, he explained catholicism by using shamrocks often. Since shamrocks have three leaves, it was seen as a catholic symbol for the holy trinity. The number three is also very significant in Pagan traditions. Since shamrocks are green, this is most likely why the color green began to be largely associated with Saint Patrick’s Day. 

The tradition of pinching those who are not wearing green on Saint Patrick’s Day originated from the legend that leprechauns can not see those who are wearing green. Leprechauns are mythical creatures that originated in Irish folklore, and it is said they pinch whoever they can see. So, the annoying tradition of people pinching others on Saint Patrick’s Day is said to be a reminder to those not wearing green that a leprechaun can appear at any time to wreak havoc. 

Saint Patrick’s Day originated as a way to celebrate Catholicism and later grew into a way to celebrate Irish culture. However, the holiday has become an excuse to throw tacky green themed parties in the United States. Just like most holidays, Saint Patrick’s Day has turned into a commercialized holiday in which not many know the true meaning or origin. This Saint Patrick’s Day, remember that Saint Patrick never wore green, so don’t pinch others for following his lead! (It might be considered assault now anyways so it’s better to err on the side of caution!) Instead of pinching, just go have fun with friends and celebrate Irish culture or catholicism and maybe go grab a shamrock shake from McDonald’s, because that is definitely one of the best parts of March!

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