by Joseph Kirchner
Dating back to approximately the ninth or tenth century, people in Ireland have observed the feast day of Saint Patrick on March 17, since Saint Patrick is believed to have died on this date back in 461. Interestingly, the first parade to honor St. Patrick’s Day took place not in Ireland, but in the United States, way back in 1762. Today, people of all backgrounds celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The mythology surrounding Saint Patrick has become ingrained not just in Irish culture, but all over the world.
Perhaps the most well-known legend of Saint Patrick is that the saint explained the Holy Trinity using the three leaves of a native Irish clover: the shamrock. Adherents of St. Patrick (the patron saint of Ireland) adopted the four-leaf clover as a symbol of Irish luck due to the fact that clovers are abundant in the hills of Ireland. A very old Irish verse describes why: “One leaf is for fame, and one leaf is for wealth, and one is for a faithful lover, and one to bring you glorious health, and all are in the four-leafed clover.” The four-leaf clover is only but one of the many “good luck charms” that are woven into every culture. We love our good luck charms and superstitions!
Many good luck charms and superstitions relate to animals. Crickets are considered good luck in Asia. Ladybugs are considered good luck. A ladybug in your house means you will soon find money, and if a ladybug lands on you, you have received good luck. Dolphins are considered lucky in many different cultures, including the ancient cultures of Greece, Egypt, and Rome. Tortoises are considered a good luck symbol in Feng-Shui decorating. Tigers are considered lucky in Chinese astrology, and elephants are widely-considered good luck in most cultures. Pigs are considered a symbol of good luck in Germanic cultures, a sentiment shared by Jaime Andrew of Emmitsburg. She has kept a small stuffed pig, given to her by her daughter, hanging from the rear view mirror in her car for the past ten years!
However, it seems that not all animals are considered lucky. Brenda Sites of Emmitsburg makes sure to make the sign of the cross on her windshield whenever a black cat crosses her path.
Of course, in addition to animals, many objects—like the previously mentioned four-leaf clover—are considered to be good luck. In Norse culture, both the acorn and its bearer, the oak tree, bring good fortune. Rainbows are considered lucky, because we all know that if we find the end of the rainbow, we will find a pot of gold. Horseshoes are thought to bring good fortune when they are hung on the wall of a home or above a doorway. The “lucky rabbit charm” was incorporated into American culture by African slaves who were brought to the Americas. Barnstars (prevalent in these parts) bring good luck, and nautical stars are thought to provide guidance and bring good fortune to sailors.
No discussion of good luck charms or superstitions would be complete without mentioning lucky/unlucky numbers. The number seven is widely considered to bring good luck, and is considered a “perfect number” in Christian circles. The number eight (which sounds like the Chinese word for “fortune”) is considered good luck in Chinese culture. And most of us have heard that the number thirteen is considered unlucky; some hotels don’t even have a thirteenth floor. And, of course, we all know about “Friday the thirteenth.” However, one man I spoke to told me that he bowled his high game on lane thirteen and that three times he lived at addresses of “113,” so it seems the number thirteen is good luck for him.
Apparently, we possess a nearly infinite number of superstitions. For example, if you blow out all of the candles on your birthday cake with the first breath, you will get whatever you wish for (I hope so!), and, likewise, if you make a wish when you see a falling star. Athletes and sports fans are notoriously superstitious. I know a serious (very serious) Redskin fan whose family absolutely prohibits his daughter from watching any “Skins” games with them, because every time she has in the past, the team made terrible mistakes. Some intrepid folks, like Dr. Michael Hargadon of Emmitsburg, create their own superstitions. It seems he had to give an important political speech and was quite nervous about it. Remembering being at the shore and how relaxed he felt with his feet in the sand, he decided (ingeniously) to put sand in his shoes before his speech to feel more relaxed, and the speech was a great success.
In closing, on St. Patrick’s Day (and beyond), I wish all of you the Luck o’ the Irish and sand in your shoe!