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What was the actual color of St. Patrick’s Day?

What was the actual color of St. Patrick’s Day?

St. Patrick’s Day is one of the most popular holidays celebrated around the world. It originated as a religious feast day commemorating the death of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century. Over time, the religious aspects of the holiday have given way to a more secular celebration of Irish culture and heritage.

One of the most iconic symbols of St. Patrick’s Day is the color green. From green rivers to green beer, the color green is ubiquitous on March 17th. But was green always associated with this Irish holiday? Surprisingly, the original color of St. Patrick’s Day was not green at all!

The Origins of St. Patrick’s Day

The first St. Patrick’s Day parade actually took place not in Ireland, but in America. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched in New York City on March 17, 1762. The parade helped the Irish connect with their roots and fellow countrymen in a new land.

Over the next few decades, March 17th celebrations sprouted up in other Irish communities and Catholic churches. Irish immigrants to America used the celebrations to assert a collective Irish identity. The day served as a reminder of Ireland during a time of discrimination against Irish Catholics.

During this early period, the color associated with St. Patrick and St. Patrick’s Day was not green, but blue. In Irish legend, St. Patrick used the shamrock, a three-leaf clover, to explain the Holy Trinity. The clover’s three leaves represented the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Saint Patrick himself is often depicted wearing blue vestments in art and literature. Blue was the color of Ireland up until the 19th century.

The Shift to Green

So when did green become the color of St. Patrick’s Day? The shift began gradually in the late 18th century. As more Irish nationalist groups formed to fight for Ireland’s independence from Great Britain, the color green was incorporated into flags and banners.

Green had already been a color associated with Irish culture, but it wasn’t the predominant color. In Irish folklore, leprechauns and little people from the fairy world wore green coats. The green color symbolized the lush, verdant landscape of the Irish countryside.

Green’s association with Irish nationalism grew over the course of the 19th century. During the Great Irish Famine from 1845-1852, Irish immigrants flooded into America wearing green shamrocks to identify themselves. Green became a symbol of the suffering and oppression of the Irish people.

By the early 20th century, green was firmly established as the color of St. Patrick’s Day. The color green and images of shamrocks proliferated more and more in decorations, clothing, and holiday paraphernalia. Beer, food, and even rivers were dyed green for the festivities.

Why Green Dominates

There are several leading theories as to why green became so strongly linked to St. Patrick’s Day and Irish identity:

Association with Irish Nationalism

As previously mentioned, green was incorporated into the flags and banners of Irish nationalist groups in the 18th and 19th centuries. The color green represented the lush Irish landscape and the dream of independence. This association stuck and spread globally along with Irish immigrants.

Complementary Color to St. Patrick’s Blue

Since St. Patrick himself was depicted in blue, green likely emerged as a complementary color. In color theory, green and blue are complementary colors that create a strong contrast.

Links to Irish Folklore

Green was already established in Irish storytelling and folklore as the color worn by fairies, leprechauns, and the wee people. It was a natural fit to extend the color to the quintessential Irish saint.

Abundance of Green Dye

Some historians believe that the prevalence of green dyes and pigments in the 18th and 19th centuries helped popularize the color green. Using readily available dyes, Irish nationalists could easily create green flags, shamrocks, and clothing.

Coincidence and Luck

It may have partly been by coincidence and luck that green became dominant over other Irish colors like blue or orange. But green proved versatile and universally appealing, making it the perfect color for St. Patrick’s Day revelry.

Green Across Cultures

While green may seem intrinsically Irish, it holds meaning across many other cultures as well:

Culture Green Symbolism
Chinese Harmony, health, peace
Japanese Eternal life, youth, nature
Arabic Strength, fertility, life
Ancient Egypt Regeneration, vegetation
Mayan Human heart, central to existence

This explains why green is such a beloved color globally. Its associations with nature, renewal, and life resonate across cultures. But it has been distinctly adopted as the top color of Ireland.

Modern Use of Green

While green has Irish origins, St. Patrick’s Day has evolved into a broader cultural festival around the world:

  • In the United States, everything from the Chicago River to beer to milkshakes turn green for March 17th parties.
  • Green accessories like hats, wigs, glasses, and socks flood stores leading up to St. Patrick’s Day.
  • Many iconic landmarks like the London Eye, the Sydney Opera House, and the Pyramids of Giza light up in green.
  • Even McDonald’s uses green shamrocks in their logo as they serve up Shamrock Shakes.

The color green is now indelibly linked to St. Patrick’s Day festivities, regardless of one’s cultural heritage. But the meaning behind the color remains rooted in Irish history.


In conclusion, while blue was the original color associated with Saint Patrick, green became tightly intertwined with the March 17th holiday by the late 1700s to early 1800s. Its rise stemmed from Irish nationalism, folklore, luck, and the prevalence of green dyes.

Although green originated as an Irish emblem, it is now universally connected to the fun and festivities of St. Patrick’s Day. So don your green garb whether you are Irish or not, and get ready to celebrate! No matter what your cultural background, green will welcome you to the party.