The Farmers’ Almanac notes that though for some the day has morphed over the years into more of a secular celebration, St. Patrick’s Day was originally a religious holiday intended to commemorate the life of St. Patrick, and it offers some facts and background:
Who Was St. Patrick?
• Born in Britain in 386 A.D., St. Patrick was captured by slave traders when he was 16 and taken to Ireland to be a shepherd. After six years of imprisonment, he escaped back to Britain.
• While imprisoned, though, he had become a devout Christian. He is said to have had visions from God, telling him to go back to Ireland and spread the gospel.
• He spent the next 20 years preaching and teaching in Ireland, creating churches and monasteries throughout the country.
What Is a Shamrock and What Does It Have to Do With St. Patrick’s Day?
• The shamrock is the most iconic symbol of St. Patrick’s Day, but what do you really know about this tiny three-leaved plant, and why is it associated with the holiday?
• Legend and tradition state that the shamrock was a vital part of St. Patrick’s teachings.
• He used its three rounded leaves growing on a single stem as a natural symbol to simplify the concept of the Trinity.
• It is also said that the deep green color of the shamrock, which became Ireland’s emblem, cancels out the superstition that it is bad luck to wear green.
Which Plant is a True Shamrock?
Which plant St. Patrick chose as the shamrock has been debated for some time. There are several strong candidates among the members of the pea family:
• White clovers are a natural choice for the original shamrock. These ground-hugging plants are native to Europe and naturalized in this country. They grow in pastureland, to the delight of dairy herds, and in lawns, to the dismay of gardeners.
• A rose-flowered variety of white clover (trifolium repens minus) is listed in some seed catalogs as the “true Irish shamrock.”
• Yet, there are those who opt for hop or yellow clover (T. procumbens.)
• Some claim another member of the pea family as the real shamrock. Oxalis acetosella, also known as wood sorrel and shamrock, has large clover-shaped green leaves, much bigger than the unrelated clover you see growing in a lawn or hayfield. There are many varieties of Oxalis, but the ones most commonly sold as houseplants have lovely tiny, fragrant white flowers.
What Does Shamrock Mean?
• The literal translation of shamrock is “seamrog” and means “summer plant.” It is in the spring and summer when shamrocks grow lush in the Irish fields.
Not Four-Leaf Clovers!
• Shamrocks and four-leaf clovers are often confused or used interchangeably. But shamrocks have three leaves. And four-leaf clovers are a symbol of good luck.
For more about St. Patrick’s Day, including tips on how to celebrate, visit the Farmer’s Almanac online at www.farmersalmanac.com.
Source: The Farmer’s Almanac.