Why do people get pinched on St. Paddy's Day?
March 17, 2009 9:18 AM   Subscribe

What is the history behind pinching those who don't wear green on St. Patrick's Day? This WikiAnswer page says it was thought that "if you wore green, it made you invisible to the Leprechauns, which was good because they would pinch anyone they could see."

The full answer, as posted currently, is:
Pinching those not wearing green on St. Patrick's Day is an American tradition, having really nothing to do with Ireland or St. Patrick. It's thought that the pinching started in the early 1700s, about the time that awareness of St. Patrick's as a holiday came to the fore, too, in Boston, in the Massachusetts colony. They thought if you wore green, it made you invisible to the Leprechauns, which was good because they would pinch anyone they could see. So the pinching is to warn and remind you about the Leprechauns.
Copied for posterity, and ease of review.
posted by filthy light thief to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm confused - haven't you just answered your own question?
posted by Mike1024 at 9:26 AM on March 17, 2009

Response by poster: Sorry, after posting I realized I didn't elaborate.

To me, this seems like one of those things that floats around in email forwards, created possibly with some hint of truth, but twisted in re-telling.

If this is the true history, can anyone provide proof?
posted by filthy light thief at 9:35 AM on March 17, 2009

See, I always thought that the act of pinching someone is what made you highly visable... to someone who would likely enjoy punching you back. Especially after they've been loaded with Jameson.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:53 AM on March 17, 2009

Possibly useless data point: I am Irish, to the point where my family scorns St. Patrick's Day as stolen by non-Irish drunkards and corporate interests. I am an American citizen.

I have never heard of this pinching thing. Sounds more like something an asshole made up than some legit cultural practice.
posted by hardcore taters at 10:00 AM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Huh. I am of Irish descent, have close relatives and friends off the boat, I was an Irish dancer for over a decade, and I have never heard of this.
posted by oflinkey at 10:05 AM on March 17, 2009

Response by poster: hardcore taters, oflinkey - interesting. In my brief online research, it seems to be something in the US, supposedly done mostly by school kids (according to internet sources, but most grown-ups I know will at least ask each-other if they're wearing green).

To the folk of Irish decent, or familiar with Leprechaun lore - do they pinch, and can they see you when you wear green? Otherwise, I'm happy chalking it up to some silly American tradition that is exploited by anyone who makes buttons, cards, or novelty shirts.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:12 AM on March 17, 2009

Early 1700s? The Irish didn't come to Boston until a century later. WikiAnswers: you get what you pay for.

Given that obvious error, I don't think you should lend any credence to the answer.
posted by orthogonality at 10:26 AM on March 17, 2009

Response by poster: orthogonality - good point. I just read that this first St. Patrick's Day parade took place when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City on March 17, 1762, putting the interest in St. Paddys Day well after that answer claims.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:27 AM on March 17, 2009

That "answer" sure sounds reverse engineered. Ah, I remember this from when I was a kid. I always interpreted it as just another excuse for kids to be assholes, no explanation necessary.

I'd guarantee it's an American thing. We're the only one's who are silly enough to induct everyone as honorary Irish for the day (And torture the non-participants). Maybe it has its roots in American Irish racism. Where I grew up every little town was it's own immigrant community and were pretty protective of it. You'd see signs like "HELP WANTED! Irish need not apply." etc. So maybe a "You beat us down the other 364 days a year, but this one day see what it's like if you're not Irish!" But I highly doubt it.

But yeah, asshole kids. They just love wailing on each other.

Most days:
"Why'd you pinch me?"
"Uh... Because you're... uh... ugly/pretty/dumb/smart/nearby/popular/unpopular/awkaward/in my way."

March 17
"Why'd you pinch me?"
"Uh... Because you're... uh... Not wearing green. It's green wearing day. Stupid." *punch*
posted by Ookseer at 12:17 PM on March 17, 2009

We celebrate St Pats day in Australia, but I'd never heard of the pinching thing.
posted by jacalata at 1:00 PM on March 17, 2009

Best answer: The WikiAnswer thing is complete bullshit. Full stop.

First of all, the whole "leprechaun" thing is bullshit--although there are people in Ireland, and people of Irish descent in other parts of the world, who have some degree of belief in some sort of mischievous "other" entities (faerie folk, if you like), the whole "leprechaun" hoo-ha really didn't get started until the late 19th/early 20th century. Yes, yes, you can trace the word "leprechaun", kind of, back to the 17th century, but it was just one of many spirit types in the traditional fairy pantheon. So, no, nobody in the 18th century was worried about "leprechauns" blah blah blah.

Second of all, the reason Irish people and people of Irish descent wore green in the 18th and 19th centuries was to show support for the Irish independence movement. (See the song "The Wearing of the Green" on this.) It wasn't because of random superstitition--it was a political protest thing much like wearing orange in Ukraine in 2004 or wearing blue-and-white ribbons or cockades was in revolutionary Argentina or wearing red caps was in the French Revolution.

As for the "pinching" thing on St. Patrick's Day, I never heard of it (grew up in rural Massachusetts in the 1970s). However, there was a thing in my school where if you wore yellow on Thursday you would get a punch in the upper arm, because that meant you were "a queer." My guess is that it's a variation on the same thing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:02 PM on March 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to all above, esp. Sidhedevil.

Pinching of those not wearing green on Saint Patrick's Day has gone on in my corner of California as long as I've been coherent of such things (in elementary school, in the mid 1980s). Green stickers are handed out to this day, under the guise of making you more Irish, or protecting you from those who would pinch you. I just assumed it was nation-wide.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:49 PM on March 17, 2009

My experience is the same as offlinkey's and hardcore tater's (except that I danced even longer). Never heard of this. (Cleveland Irish-American neighborhoods, if that helps.)
posted by ubersturm at 2:39 PM on March 17, 2009

Elementary school, Berkeley CA area, 1960s: pinching.
Jr high and high school, NYC suburbs, 1970s: never heard of this pinching deal.
Just a couple more data points.
posted by Quietgal at 4:25 PM on March 17, 2009

Hmmm, I've never heard of it but I wonder if that has anything to do with my HR department shooting out an email yesterday reiterating our sexual harassment policy.
posted by any major dude at 5:47 PM on March 17, 2009

I was raised in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, and I've never met anyone who hasn't heard of this pinching thing. It started in elementary school in the 80s, and people were still joking about it at work today. Consider that one more data point, I guess. For the record, I'm Indian (from India, not Native American) and went to elementary school with a mix of kids. I don't think any of us ever thought it was a "real" Irish thing, though.

Ok, one more data point, my Mexican friend who moved to the US in 1989 remembers hearing about it on her first St. Paddy's Day in the US (in New Mexico), and has considered it standard operating procedure ever since.
posted by sa3z at 7:05 PM on March 17, 2009

Another data point: in Western CT schoolyards in the seventies it was not unheard of, but not terribly common.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:08 PM on March 17, 2009

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