When I was in elementary school, we celebrated St. Patrick’s day by wearing green and racing around trying to pinch those not wearing green. Or cleverly avoiding being pinched if we forgot to wear green to school that day. Some people say that mischievous Leprechauns like to pinch people but they can’t see you if you’re wearing green. So the pinching is to remind you to wear green in order not to be pinched by the Leprechauns. Funny how these little traditions develop.
Later on I read legends about St. Patrick ordering all of the snakes to leave Ireland or settling disputes by delivering a sermon using the shamrock to represent the concept of the Holy Trinity.
Popular colors and symbols for the day include green, orange, white, gold harps, and the shamrock. Green is a symbol of spring and fertility and has been Ireland’s national color since the nineteenth century. The Irish flag is green, white, and orange. Green for the Gaelic and Catholic majority, orange for Ireland’s Protestants, and white for the peace between. An older Irish flag was solid green with an image of a gold harp. The harp also appears on several Irish coins.
Looking on Wikipedia today, I was amused to see notes about some unusual ways people have celebrated this holiday:
Astronauts on board the International Space Station have celebrated the festival in different ways. Irish-American Catherine Coleman played a hundred-year-old flute belonging to Matt Molloy and a tin whistle belonging to Paddy Moloney, both members of the Irish music group The Chieftains, while floating weightless in the space station on Saint Patrick’s Day in 2011. Her performance was later included in a track called “The Chieftains in Orbit” on the group’s album, Voice of Ages.
Astronaut Chris Hadfield took photographs of Ireland from earth orbit and a picture of himself wearing green clothing in the space station, and posted them online on Saint Patrick’s Day in 2013. He also posted online a recording of himself singing “Danny Boy” in space.
In Great Britain, Queen Elizabeth used to present bowls of shamrock flown over from Ireland to members of the Irish Guards, a regiment in the British Army consisting primarily of soldiers from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Irish Guards still wear shamrock on this day, flown in from Ireland.
Yet for many, this is a holiday to remember the patron saint of Ireland by attending a special mass in his honor or by simply lighting a candle.