Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

“The Wearing of the Green”

“The Wearing of the Green”

Scan of a ballad sheet titled "The Wearing of the Green."

A longstanding Irish tradition, “The Wearing of the Green” originally referred to wearing a shamrock in one’s hat on or a jacket lapel and has roots in the seventeenth century, when wearing symbols of Catholicism or support for the Irish Republic was forbidden in Ireland. (Library Company of Philadelphia)

Library Company of Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s annual Saint Patrick’s Day parade is often best recognized by the sea of green clothes and accessories marchers and attendees wear. A longstanding Irish tradition, “The Wearing of the Green” originally referred to wearing a shamrock in one’s hat on or a jacket lapel and has roots in the seventeenth century, when wearing symbols of Catholicism or support for the Irish Republic was forbidden in Ireland. The Irish defiantly wore shamrocks, and later green clothing, to symbolize their faith and support for an independent Ireland. Once in the United States, many Irish Philadelphians wore green to symbolize patriotism towards their homeland and to emphasize freedom of political expression in their new home. Centuries of Irish oppression at home and trouble for new immigrants abroad prompted the writing of many songs and ballads intended to keep up morale and political defiance, as seen in this ballad sheet titled “The Wearing of the Green.” The traditional “wearing of the green” persisted into the twenty-first century, though the meaning has been muddled and many people wear green to avoid another tradition—a friendly pinch from a fellow parade-goer for those who fail to wear any green.

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