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Tuesday Trivia: St. Patrick's Day

J. H. Osborne • Mar 17, 2020 at 2:15 PM

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, which most folks — of Irish descent or not — know is connected to Ireland, shamrocks, and a day you’re supposed to wear green. But many who celebrate by going out for traditional Irish fare or simply wearing green might not know much about the day’s religious roots.

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.

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