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St. Patrick's Day and the wearing of the green

St. Patrick's Day is approaching next week and if you are Irish (or not) you are more than likely planning on some sort of celebratory event to mark the national 'holiday' of the Irish people, generally observed on March 17, the case this year.

More specifically, the day is an annual feast day commemorating St. Patrick, one of the patron saints of Ireland, who died in the fifth century. Oddly, St. Patrick was not born in Ireland, but Britain. Irish bandits kidnapped him at 16 and brought him to their country. He was sold as a slave in bondage, serving for six years, until escaping to Gaul, in present-day France. He later returned to his parents' home in Britain, where he had a vision he would preach to the Irish. After 14 years of study, Patrick returned to Ireland, where he built churches and spread the Catholic Faith for some 30 years.

St. Patrick's Day was eventually recognized as a religious holiday in the Roman Catholic Church in the early part of the 17th century, and is a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics in Ireland. The date of the feast is occasionally moved by church authorities when March 17 falls during Holy Week. This last happened in 1940, when St. Patrick's Day was observed April 3, in order to avoid it coinciding with Palm Sunday, and it will happen again next year, when it will be held March 15.

One of the more common ways of celebrating the event is with gatherings in Irish themed pubs. Ironically, by law, pubs in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick's Day, because it was a national religious holiday, as recently as the 1970s.

Several myths also surround the day. One of the best known is that Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland into the Irish Sea, where the serpents drowned. (Some still say that is why the sea is so rough).

Evidently, not true. Snakes have never been native to the Emerald Isle. Serpents were likely a metaphor for druidic religions, which steadily disappeared from Ireland in the centuries after St. Patrick planted the seeds of Christianity on the island.

Wearing of the green and four-leaf clovers are also synonomous with the day, but did you know that in Ireland the color green was long considered to be unlucky? It seems that Irish folklore holds that green is the favorite color of the Good People (faeries) who were believed likely to steal people, especially children, who wore too much of the green color.

Keeping with the green through the years, Chicago has become famous for dyeing the Chicago River green on St. Patrick's Day. The tradition began in 1962, when a pipefitters union, with the permission of the mayor, poured a hundred pounds of green vegetable dye into the river. Today only 40 pounds of dye are used, enough to turn the river green for several hours.

As for the four-leaf clover, aka shamrock, considered by many to be lucky, all are definitely not four-leaf. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the highest number of leaves found on a clover is 14, and one estimate suggests that there are about 10,000 regular three-leaf clovers for every lucky four-leaf. Legend also says that each leaf of the clover means something - the first is for hope, the second for faith, the third for love, and the fourth for luck.

So here's hoping all of you 'luck out' on St. Patrick's Day Monday as you celebrate the 'wearing of the green,' mixing in a little 'blarney' to go with it all.