Yeah yeah, you know the rule, but it never stops you from walking out the door on the holiday with your getup distinctly lacking something green. And so it begins. Strangers, friends, even the occasional coworker: they all turn into menacing figures ready to strike. But what’s the deal with all that pinching on St. Patrick’s Day, anyway?
Pinching on St. Patrick’s Day is so far removed from its roots with our Guinness-soaked, stereotype-slinging celebrations that it might seem random at best, endlessly annoying at worst. But if you go back to the traditions of the holiday, it makes more sense. (It’s still reasonable to expect strangers to keep their hands to themselves, even on St. Patrick’s Day, so don’t accept any pinching on St. Patrick’s Day if you’re uncomfortable.)
Pinching on St. Patrick’s Day starts with the Irish coming to America
It’s old news that America took St. Patrick’s Day and ran with it. (We’re looking at you, Erin Express.) But most people don’t know that the original color associated with the Order of St. Patrick was actually blue, not the green you’ve come to know and maybe even love. The light blue color was chosen “perhaps to create a shade of blue for the Irish that was different from the royal blue associated with the English,” Timothy McMahon, Vice President of the American Conference for Irish Studies, told Time.
McMahon says the first use of green on a flag wasn’t until the violent Great Irish Rebellion of 1641. It popped up again in the 1790s, during which time groups like the Society of United Irishmen, inspired by the American and French Revolutions, pushed for republican ideas in Ireland. The Society of United Irishmen sported uniforms that were primarily green so that, though the uniforms fell out of fashion, the importance of the color green spread — especially since songs and poems were written about this exact idea.
“You start to see different traditions building up around colors — the Protestant tradition is orange, the nationalist tradition associated with the Catholics is green,” McMahon summarized.
But wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day started when Irish immigrants moved to the U.S. in the 19th century. Forced out of Ireland looking for jobs or to avoid the Great Potato Famine, Irish-Americans wore green to show their national pride.
And this is why the pinching on St. Patrick’s Day happens
The pinching on St. Patrick’s Day is connected to another of the holiday’s staples: the leprechaun. Superstitions claimed that wearing the color green made you “invisible” to these magical creatures, who went around violating people’s personal space and pinching everyone they could see. The reason behind this inconsiderate behavior? They’re just mischievous.
But this quickly devolved into people taking matters into their own hands, quite literally, and pinching those around them on St. Patrick’s Day who weren’t wearing green — as a reminder that leprechauns might pinch them. So there’s really no escaping the pinch.