Irish Customs and Traditions on American Soil


    By Barbara Davis

    Will Watanabe”s crimson t-shirt and blue cargo shorts were neatly pressed and smelled of laundry detergent. The 9-year-old was eager to wear his favorite outfit to school.

    Any other day the outfit would go unnoticed, but not today. It was part of the game and part of his strategy.

    “Gotcha,” said a fellow classmate.

    The pinch stung Watanabe”s arm, but he knew the revenge would be sweet.

    “You get to pinch them 10 times back if you are wearing green,” Watanabe said.

    He was wearing green – green underwear.

    Over the years, Americans have developed and adopted St. Patrick”s Day customs and traditions. Millions of Americans will celebrate St. Patrick”s Day their own way. These traditions include wearing green, displaying clovers, participating in parades and dancing.

    St. Patrick”s Day originated in Ireland as a religious holiday and a day to attend Mass, said Eilis Cooper, originally from Ireland but living in Rochester, N.H. Today many people, regardless of religious affiliation, now celebrate it.

    “It is an immigrant holiday,” said Patrick O”Rourke, an Irish historian from Ireland, living in Bellevue, Wash.

    Celebrating St. Patrick, who helped convert Ireland to Christianity, became popular in New York, Chicago and other places where Irish immigrants ended up, he said. He added it is a bigger celebration in America than in Ireland, and many of the traditions began in America.

    Ireland, known for its hills of 40 shades of green, is considered “The Emerald Isle.” Wearing green for St. Patrick”s Day in America developed when Queen Victoria outlawed it in Ireland.

    “The first St. Patrick”s Day after [the ban], everyone in New York dressed in green,” O”Rourke said.

    Since then, Americans have worn green to observe the holiday.

    Pinching those not wearing green is an American tradition. The origins for it can be unclear, but Michelle Roberts, a high-school senior from Provo, took a stab at it.

    “We pinch because it is celebrating snakes leaving Ireland and snakes bite – like pinches,” Roberts said.

    Others believe pinching was meant to remind people to wear green, and children made it into a game.

    Parades also have become popular in America. Chicago orchestrated the first St. Patrick”s Day parade, and each year the city dyes the Chicago River green to honor the holiday. New York City and Savannah, Ga., hold the two largest parades, and the fountains of Savannah are dyed green. The parades consist of bands, immigrant societies, floats, police officials, firefighters, cultural clubs and other organizations. More than 100 U.S. cities organize St. Patrick”s Day parades.

    The shamrock, another name for clover, is also a symbol of the holiday.

    “St. Patrick used three-leaf clovers to explain the trinity,” said Dermot O”Rourke, originally from Ireland but living in Bellevue, Wash.

    The Irish picked up this notion and adopted it into their culture. As a youth, O”Rourke and others wore shamrock badges on their school-coat lapels.

    Three-leaf clovers are common in Ireland, so when four-leafs clovers are found, they represent luck because of their rarity.

    This year, Watanabe will dress in green from head to toe, eat green food for breakfast, watch the parades on television and hunt for four leaf clovers to celebrate a holiday for Irish and non-Irish alike.

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