Wearing Green on St. Patrick's Day

Updated on September 5, 2019
Deborah Minter profile image

Deborah is a research enthusiast! She takes special interest in the world's ancient mysteries.

Wearing green has become the popular way of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in America. Curiously, wearing green had nothing to do with the foundation of the holiday. The practice of wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day arose from Irish tradition and pride.

St. Patrick

Much surrounding St. Patrick is legend. St. Patrick was likely born in Wales in the fourth century. He was kidnapped by Irish pirates when he was 14 and brought back with them to Ireland, where he worked as a pig and sheep herder. Eventually, he was returned to Wales by king sailors. When he was 20 years old, he had a vision from God to be the “Voice of Ireland.” He traveled to Ireland (the “green island”) to do missionary work, and he converted druids to Catholicism. He died on March 17th, the date that we now know as St. Patrick’s Day. The holiday was originally a Roman Catholic feast day, for Ireland’s patron St. Patrick, and was celebrated in Ireland since before the 1600s. Green attire was not part of the celebration until the 1700s in America.

There is an Irish saying- "There are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were."
There is an Irish saying- "There are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were."

What If St. Patrick's Day Had Been Blue?

St. Patrick’s Day did not begin as wearing a color. Nevertheless, blue is the first color that was associated with St. Patrick. Early depictions of St. Patrick present the saint clothed in blue garments.

St. Patrick’s blue is actually a color. George the third created an order of knights for the kingdom of Ireland in the 18th century, “The order of St. Patrick.” The order’s official color was sky blue, now known as “St. Patrick blue.”

Green has become attached to Ireland. Some believe green is Ireland’s country’s “Official color.” Ireland has no official color. Two hues of blue, St. Patrick’s blue and presidential blue are widely used by the government in Ireland. Though wearing a color was a tradition practiced long after the inception of even the holiday, the color blue is the color long associated with St. Patrick. Imagine if the day had remained blue instead of green.

  • Green came to represent the Catholics of Ireland. In America, Protestants wore orange on Saint Patrick’s Day to represent their faith. Irish Americans wore green, called Catholic green.

St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach the holy trinity. Some view the meaning of the shamrock as faith, love, and hope.
St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach the holy trinity. Some view the meaning of the shamrock as faith, love, and hope.

Wearing Green

Wearing green attire on St. Patrick’s Day is an entirely American tradition, which possibly started in the early 1700s. It was thought that wearing green made one invisible to leprechauns. Leprechauns were described as fairy creatures that would pinch anyone they could see not wearing green. If anyone was not wearing green, it was customary for someone to pinch the person to remind them. Leprechauns were from the world of Irish legend. Originally leprechauns were said to wear red and gold jackets with pointy red hats, legend has it, that they pinched anyone not wearing their favorite color. Leprechauns are now depicted to be wearing green.

It is possible the color green may have rooted back to St. Patrick himself. St. Patrick used the green Shamrock to teach people about the holy trinity. Converts and followers wore the shamrock to display their faith. The practice of wearing the shamrock continued well after his death and during the “holy feast.” The “Wearing of green,” was, in fact, the wearing of the shamrock to display faith. Some historians claim it is possible that individuals from the mid seventeen hundreds mistook the phrase to actually mean, the wearing of green garments.

Wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day has most of its origin from the Irish living in America. Irish immigrants in the US held some of the first St. Patrick’s day parades. It was an opportunity to express a political statement about the discontent with their low social status in America. Green was synonymous with the non-sectarian Irish republican, thus the wearing of the color on March seventeenth. It became a tradition in the nineteenth century in New York among the growing Irish immigrant population. Especially during the Great Famine of the 1840s to 50s, Irish people wore green and carried Irish flags with American Flags, to express pride in their home country.

Green is a predominant color in the culture of Ireland. It is the color for many Irish groups’ revolutionary flag. Green is also in Ireland’s nickname, “The Emerald Isle.” Ireland’s flag bears significant colors, the Irish flag’s green stripe represents the Catholics of Ireland, the orange stripe means the Protestant population and the white middle stripe, symbolizes peace between the two religions. Of course, the green that is closely related to St. Patrick is the green shamrock.

In 1641, an Irish rebellion erupted with its symbol being a green flag. Catholic landowners were displaced by the Protestant English crown. Bishops led the rebellion against the Brits to gain back rights to their land by waving a large green flag into battle. The flag was a symbol of the land of men from Kilkenny who charged ahead, seeking recompense for their displacement. The flag was green with the symbol of a harp.

  • In 1790, The Society of United Irishmen was reported to wear green. They sported dark green shirts and green-white striped trousers with a felt hat. Green caught on after that in poems and ballads hailing, “The wearing of the green!”

Some people mistake the shamrock with the four leaf clover. They are very different, but both are green.
Some people mistake the shamrock with the four leaf clover. They are very different, but both are green.

There you have it! Whether you decide to wear green, blue, or orange, you are celebrating a piece of history. The next time green is spotted on St. Patrick’s Day, remember it is a tradition filled with legend and Irish pride.


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    • Lauren Flauding profile image

      Lauren Flauding 

      2 years ago from Sahuarita, AZ

      Saint Patrick’s Day is my favorite holiday, but I didn’t know a lot of this history! Great info! Although I would argue that Ireland does have “official colors,” green, white, and orange, the colors of their flag.


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