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AuthorView “Wearin’ o’ the Green” by Ken White

My mother never met a holiday she didn’t like. Partly because each one was a day to celebrate; a day off from the day-to-day. Plus, they were all fun in their own way. One of her favorites was March 17th – St. Patrick’s Day. It had nothing to do with being Irish, because she was Bavarian German. Or drinking, although she enjoyed a cocktail or two. Or shamrocks, although she was terminally superstitious. Or leprechauns, though I think she believed they really existed and would have dearly loved to find the pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow. For Madre, it was all about the “wearin’ o’ the green.”

If you didn’t wear green on St. Patty’s Day, she would pinch you. Not an easy pinch, but a turn-the-skin-red and leave-a-white-mark twister. She loved catching us kids without our green on. Because she always trapped us first thing in the morning, when we were all still half-asleep, it was easy; easier than fooling us on April Fool’s Day, but that’s another story. Of course, we’d be sure to add some green somewhere before we headed off to school, since every kid there had learned the same painful lesson at home and each was eager to apply it to their classmates. When we finally donned the green, it was usually someplace invisible so we could trick our attackers, since turnabout was fair play if they were wrong. The pincher would thus become the pinchee.

I’m pretty sure Mom didn’t know that the tradition originated with an Irish street ballad written in 1798. And that green, which was one of the colors of the Irish flag and the shamrock, represented the Irish rebellion from the British Empire, whose national color was red, thanks to the Union Jack and their military uniforms. Because it became a sign of Irish patriotism, any Irishman caught wearing green was hanged on the spot by the Brits. I think if my mom had known the true history, she might have thought twice about threatening us with the dreaded pinch if we didn’t wear the green. But, not likely. It tickled her too much.

As far as the pinching part of the tradition, that was purely an American invention, which reportedly started in the early 1700s. Those early colonials believed that wearing green made you invisible to leprechauns, who would pinch anyone they could see, which meant anyone not wearing green. Kind of a vicious circle. People began pinching those who didn’t wear green as a reminder that the wee folk could see them, making them fair game, thus freeing the warner to sneak up and pinch the warnee before the little people did. It was silly, but fun.

Holiday superstitions and rituals. They dotted the calendar and filled our days, passed from generation to generation. They continue, but they’re not the same.

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