It is very easy being green

March 17, 2008

by Matt Kane

Anybody Irish is probably a little green today.

St. Patrick’s Day always prompts people, especially of the Irish descent, to forage through their wardrobes for that shamrock shirt that sees the light of day and the dark of night once a year.

St. Patrick’s Day is a Roman Catholic holiday in Ireland, and became a public holiday in the country in 1903. The holiday celebrates Irish ancestry and St. Patrick, who, ironically, was born in Britain. Nevertheless, St. Patrick is often credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland. According to History.com, March 17, around the year 460 A.D., is thought to be the day of St. Patrick’s death.

So, to St. Patrick, in honor of his death, I raise a pint of something either very dark in color or died green in salute to his services to the national of Ireland and its people.

Actually, because St. Patrick’s Day rests during the Catholic Church’s Holy Week this year, some believe St. Patrick’s Day should have been celebrated over the weekend. I’m sure some “loyal” Irishmen and women will have covered all the bases by celebrating it Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. That’s just the kind of dedication us Irish folks have.

Don’t worry about future years. According to Wikipedia.com, St. Patrick’s Day will not fall on Holy Week again until 2160. In other words, we have plenty of time to recover from this year.

My surname, Kane, is very Irish, in fact I believe it used to be O’Kane, so I have a duty to honor the birth country of my people, and I plan to do so.

I already have a green shirt, which I was harassed about for wearing two weeks ago, with a shamrock on it that says “Lucky,” so I am pretty set in the wardrobe department. Although, if I can find a green top hat and a leprechaun suit in a hurry, I would look even better.

In thinking about the wardrobes people wear on St. Patrick’s Day, the common theme is green.

I know green is the color of money, growth, health and, certainly in this day and age, the environment, and, on the flip side, it can also stand for jealousy or envy. I always thought green was the color of greed. Oh, wait. That’s Norm Green.

So why, then, do we all wear green on St. Patrick’s Day?

Apparently, green is the color for the Catholics in Ireland, and St. Patrick was a Catholic saint. Green is one of three colors on Ireland’s flag. The green on the flag is separated from orange, which honors the Protestants, by white, which is supposed to symbolize peace between the two religions. Another reason to wear green is to honor the landmass of Ireland, itself, which is often referred to as the Emerald Island. Then again, maybe wearing green is, simply, what people do to avoid getting pinched.

Then again, wearing green may just be something made up by Americans. That tends to happen.

On NationalGeographic.com, author Bridget Haggerty says that, although it is customary to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day in the United States, “the color was long considered to be unlucky.”

According to Haggerty, Irish folklore says green is the favorite color of the Good People (the proper name for faeries), who steal people, especially children, who wear too much green.

Well, I never have too much green in my pockets, so I should be safe from those Good People. I’m going to wear green to honor the Emerald Island. That seems to be the safest reason.

St. Patrick’s Day facts (NationalGeographic.com)

• Colonial New York City hosted the first official St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1762, when Irish immigrants in the British colonial army marched down city streets. In subsequent years, Irish fraternal organizations also held processions to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The various groups merged sometime around 1850 to form a single, grand parade.

• Today New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is the longest running civilian parade in the world. This year nearly three million spectators are expected to watch the spectacle and some 150,000 participants plan to march.

• Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is little more than 75 years old. This year festival organizers will launch 15,000 pounds (7 metric tons) of fireworks to cap their celebration, which is expected to draw 400,000 spectators.

• By law, pubs in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick’s Day, a national religious holiday, as recently as the 1970s.

• According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 34 million United States residents claim Irish ancestry, or nearly ten times the entire population of Ireland today, which stands at 3.9 million. Among U.S. ethnic groups, the number of Irish-Americans in the U.S. is second only to the number of German-Americans.

• Since 1820, 4.8 million Irish have legally immigrated to the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The agency reports that only four countries—Germany, Italy, Mexico, and the United Kingdom—have sent more native-born residents to become naturalized U.S. citizens.

• Chicago is famous for dyeing the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day. The tradition began in 1962, when a pipe fitters union—with the permission of the mayor—poured a hundred pounds (45 kilograms) of green vegetable dye into the river. (On the job, the workers often use colored dyes to track illegal sewage dumping.) Today only 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of dye are used, enough to turn the river green for several hours.
According to the Friends of the Chicago River, a local environmental group, more people are likely to view the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day than on any other day.

• Guinness stout, first brewed by Arthur Guinness in Dublin, Ireland, in 1759, has become synonymous with Ireland and Irish bars. According to the company’s Web site, 1,883,200,000 (that’s 1.9 billion) pints of Guinness are consumed around the world every year.

• Robert Louis Stevenson, the 19th-century Scottish author of Kidnapped, Treasure Island, and other novels, brought a store of Guinness with him during a trip to Samoa in the South Pacific, according to the Guinness Web site.

• Ireland is about 300 miles (480 kilometers) long and 200 miles (320 kilometers) wide. Those facts, along with other features, led Swedish geographer Ulf Erlingsson to recently conclude that the Atlantic Ocean island is the same one identified by ancient Greek philosopher Plato as Atlantis in his famous dialogues Timaeus and Critias.