Most of us make sure we put one something with a bit of clearly visible green when we wake up St. Patrick's Day morning. As kids, we would never forget. To enter school on St. Paddy's Day without some vivid green would leave you bruised by a series of arm pinches. The message was unmistakable. You wear green on St. Patrick's Day. Why? If you don't, you are going to get it!
Eventually, the fear of being pinched probably passed, but we continued to put on a bit of green for the holiday. Maybe we did it to fit in with other revelers enjoying a parade. Maybe we did it as a way of showing some appreciation or respect for Ireland. Most of us probably did it out of tradition and habit.
The origin of wearing green has its roots in Irish politics. As the 1600s closed, British authorities were coming down hard on the Catholic population in Ireland. If you were a Catholic, your rights were limited and your economic potential was cut off at the knees. A series of tough laws were implemented in an effort to keep Ireland under control.
In the 1770s, while America and Britain battled over the future of the colonies, a Protestant-led group known as the "Irish Volunteers" open expressed their disdain for the restrictive laws and rejected the idea of treating Irish Catholics as something less than a full citizen. The group's popularity began to rise. The Irish Volunteers wore shamrocks as a something akin to a badge of membership. In hopes of quelling the agitators, the Queen of England made wearing the shamrock a capital offense.
When the Irish Volunteers began to take up the wearing of the shamrock, it was seen as an act of rebellion. Laws were passed that anyone wearing the Shamrock would be hung. An attempted and rebellion, in 1798, marked the end of that phase of the resistance. The laws, including the one banning the shamrock stayed in place.
That changed during the Boer War. A unit of Irish soldiers fighting in South Africa for England showed a great deal of gallantry and soldiering talent in confrontations with the South Africans. The Queen decided to celebrate their success by offering each member of the unit the opportunity to wear the shamrock on his cap. The prohibition on the symbol's use was finally over.
Wearing the green on St. Patrick's Day became a way of honoring those early Irish nationalists and celebrating Ireland. The tradition slowly but surely expanded past shamrocks, which are not plentiful everywhere, to anything green.
When we pull on that green t-shirt, break out those "once a year" green socks or knot a green tie every March, our minds might flicker back to school days spent avoiding pinches, but at its roots the traditional is a remembrance of Irish freedom fighters from centuries ago.