When you think about St. Patrick’s Day, you probably picture green leprechauns, shamrocks, rainbows, and pots of gold. But have you ever wondered why we associate shimmering gold coins with St. Patrick’s Day? At Garfield we were curious, so we took it upon ourselves to find out why. Here’s what we learned:
The origin of St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick was a patron saint of Ireland and is credited with converting many of the Irish people to Christianity. By the time he died on March 17, 461 CE, he had established Christian churches, schools, and monasteries in Ireland. It is said that St. Patrick would use a shamrock to explain the Trinity, which is how the shamrock became one of the first symbols of St. Patrick’s Day that we still see today. In the early days, the Irish would don a shamrock or other article of green clothing to commemorate the holiday. When Irish citizens immigrated to America, they brought that original St. Patrick’s Day tradition with them. In time, the Irish-Americans expanded on the traditional ways of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and created the holiday as we know it in 2022.
In the mid-19th century, Irish-Americans started to ramp up the celebration for St. Patrick’s Day in honor of their Irish Heritage. Several major cities in America became known for their St. Patrick’s Day parades, including our home city of Philadelphia. In time, we began seeing new symbols of St. Patrick’s Day, like pots of gold, green beer, and even green rivers (looking at you, Chicago).
So, where does the pot of gold fit into the story of St. Patrick’s Day? It all goes back to the legend of the leprechaun.
The man, the myth, the leprechaun
One of the most commonly-associated symbols of St. Patrick’s Day is the leprechaun. Leprechauns originated in Irish folklore, and the legend of the leprechaun describes these small men as cunning and cranky fairy creatures who could use magical powers to trick humans. In Irish folklore, leprechauns were portrayed as shoe cobblers for other fairies and were paid for their work in gold coins.
The legends say that leprechauns kept their gold hidden, and if a human were to catch the leprechaun, the human could force him to reveal where he hides his pot of gold. Of course, the leprechaun always vanishes before revealing their hiding spot, but the legend continues to be shared through the generations.
Even though leprechauns and gold coins have no association with St. Patrick himself, they have become some of the most recognizable symbols of St. Patrick’s Day today.