Be ready to answer questions about St. Patrick's Day

March 04, 2005|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

As February's hearts make way for March's shamrocks, children are bound to ask questions.

Why do we celebrate St. Patrick's Day? Why does everyone wear green on that day? What is a shamrock? Why are leprechauns and pots of gold part of the decorations?

Since St. Patrick's Day - March 17 - is less than two weeks away, we better start preparing our answers.

First celebrated in the United States in 1737, this holiday is named for St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.

Yet his real name wasn't Patrick and he wasn't from Ireland.

It is believed that St. Patrick was born around 385 and grew up somewhere in the British Isles - England, Scotland and Wales. When he was a teenager, he was captured by raiders from Hibernia, the name for ancient Ireland. He was forced into slavery and served as a shepherd for many years.

After escaping from slavery, he went to France to study religion. In 432, he became a bishop. The pope gave him the name Patricius, Latin for Patrick.


He then traveled back to Ireland, trying to reach the people who had forced him into slavery. His influence led to the growth of Christianity in Ireland. He died on March 17, 461. After his death, the church made him a saint, recognizing him for his holiness.

There are many legends associated with St. Patrick and his holiday.

It is said that St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach people about the Holy Trinity. Just as the shamrock is one plant with three leaves, he taught that God is three in one - God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

People believed that it was good luck to find a four-leaf clover and designated special meanings to each leaf - faith, hope, love and luck.

Another legend involves the magical spirits of fairies and leprechauns. It was said that Irish fairies dance and play throughout the day, wearing out their shoes. At night, leprechauns repair the fairies' shoes. In return, fairies leave gold coins for the leprechauns, who save them and place them in well-hidden gold pots.

Legend says that if you catch a leprechaun, he will lead you to his pot of gold.

Legend also says that leprechauns love to cause mischief, but don't tell your kids that. They'll use it as an excuse: "But Mommy, I couldn't help it. I'm a leprechaun today!"

Here are some nonmischievous ways to make the day fun for your family:

· Encourage everyone to wear green in honor of the "Emerald Isle," which is Ireland's nickname. Emeralds are green gemstones. Ireland is known for its green fields and valleys.

· Help your child make the Tricolor, the flag of the country of Ireland. (The country of Northern Ireland, on the northeast part of the island of Ireland, uses a different flag.) The Tri-color has three broad vertical strips. Green on the left, white in the middle, and orange at the other end. The green is symbolic of the Irish Catholics, the orange is for the Irish Protestants, and the white part symbolizes the importance of peace between people with different beliefs.

· Plan a special St. Patrick's Day dinner. Traditional favorites for this holiday are corned beef and cabbage or Irish stew, both of which can be prepared in a slow cooker. Serve Leprechaun's Delight for dessert - pistachio pudding in dessert cups tied with gold ribbon.

To learn more about St. Patrick's Day, check out these books available at Washington County Free Library:

· "St. Patrick's Day: Parades, Shamrocks, and Leprechauns" by Elaine Landau - the story of the patron saint of Ireland.

· "Patrick's Day" by Elizabeth Lee O'Donnell - A little boy named Patrick is devastated to learn that the annual parade through town each March isn't held to honor him. He doesn't want to be just an "ordinary" boy until his family and friends find a way to show him just how special he is.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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