Every year on March 17th people around the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by wearing their greenest apparel. As someone with a form of colorblindness, I am always interested to learn about colors, especially ones that I can’t really see. So I took it upon myself to dig into the history of the color green and why it ended becoming synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day. Turns out there are several other colors that came first.
If you would like to read about the history of the color green, check out this related blog post A Brief History Of The Color Green.
Green For St. Patrick’s Day
According to tradition, Saint Patrick used a shamrock to explain the holy trinity to the pre-Christian Irish. People of the time began wearing shamrocks pinned to their hats or coats to symbolize their new faith, this became known as “the wearing of the green”. Around the 1700’s the interpretation of the phrase changed, and people began wearing green colored clothing. This coincided with the newfound popularity of green dyes and paints.
As stories of Saint Patrick carrying a sprig of shamrocks began to spread across Ireland, many depictions of Saint Patrick began to include the shamrock and green robe. This furthered the idea that you should wear green to celebrate St. Patrick and started the tradition that is so wide spread today.
But this tradition wasn’t as popular then as it is today, in fact only part of Ireland wore green.
Wait, Orange For Saint Patrick’s Day?
Depending on the region you were from, and the church you went to, you may have worn orange instead of green to honor Saint Patrick. Catholic’s tended to wear green and Protestants wore Orange. Now I will admit that there is a little more to it than that but I’m not going to be able to cover all of that here. But if you want to read more about it I will link a couple additional resources for you.
The Irish flag actually honors this split in color choice. In 1848, a small group of French women who were sympathetic to the problems within Ireland, designed a flag using green, orange, and white. They presented the flag idea to Thomas Francis Meagher who was in France with a group of Irish politicians and revolutionaries studying the French revolutions. The flag was slightly different from the tricolor flag we are familiar with today, but the meaning behind it has remained unchanged.
The tricolor flag was intended to represent the Irish-Catholics (the green) and Irish-Protestants (the orange) brought together in a lasting peace and unity (the white in the center). If you are interested in learning more about the tricolor flag you can find that info here and if you would like to read about Thomas Francis Meagher (who led a really interesting life) you can find that information here.
As I said earlier, there were a few other colors that were synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day. While most of Ireland was split between green and orange, a third color was fighting for recognition, Blue.
In 1750 an Irish fraternity called The Friendly Brothers of Saint Patrick was founded and officially adopted green as its color. However in 1783 the Anglo-Irish chivalric Order of St. Patrick was founded and adopted a much different color. They went with blue to differentiate themselves from the Irish nationalists who were using green. This wasn’t too far from the norm color wise as early Irish societies and even army units used blue, partially a lighter blue, as it represents the Virgin Mary.
There was some debate as to exactly what color of blue was Saint Patrick’s Blue, and that is partially to blame for the slow decline in the use of the color. If you want to learn a little more about this largely forgotten St. Patrick’s Day hue you can read about it in my next blog post Blue For St. Patrick’s Day? .
Saint Patrick’s Blue hasn’t vanished entirely, while Ireland does not have an official national color, you can see examples of blue in its Coat of Arms and the Standard of the President of Ireland.
So, Why Green?
Well originally green was worn to symbolize the conversion to Catholicism. Over the years the simple shamrock became an entire green outfit due to a misheard turn of phrase. In some older traditions, green helps to hide you from the fair folk and leprechauns (I’ll be explaining more about this in another post Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, The History Behind The Traditions ). Then, green represented Irish nationalism and fighting to bring back traditional Irish cultural symbols.
In a more modern tradition green is the unofficial national color of Ireland and represents the rolling green hills and meadows of Ireland.
So why green? Well, everyone has a different reason, but it really all comes down to a desire to celebrate together. So don your best green, orange, or blue and join in the celebration, together.
More Information On St. Patrick’s Day
If you would like to read more about St. Patrick’s Day, check out these other blog posts: