On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, parents across America will lay out “evidence” that a mischievous little leprechaun has visited their home for the kids’ amusement. They say a leprechaun will grant three wishes if you catch one, but I’m willing to bet you always came up short as a kid, right? When you’re young, this is all the holiday is good for -- besides the corned beef and cabbage that’s probably being cooked up that night, Irish heritage or not.
Once you get older, St. Patrick’s Day becomes less associated with leprechauns and more with Guinness -- but that’s a story for another day. Nevertheless, on all the decorations during the month of March and in every parade, you’ll see a leprechaun or two.
Though there’s no connection between patron saint St. Patrick and leprechauns themselves, the folklore comes from the Emerald Isle, so the little swindlers come out around the day we celebrate the Irish.
The idea of the leprechaun dates all the way back to about the eighth century. At its core, a leprechaun is a fairy; water spirits called luchorpán were probably merged with other fairies that were known to wreak havoc on houses and drink a lot. The depiction to this day is pretty true to that, I’d say.
The leprechauns we know are tiny, sometimes mean and capricious, red-haired and bearded men who wear green and like to play tricks on anyone and everything. The only real diversion we’ve made from the original tales are the color they donned: Leprechauns historically wore red, and it was only the 20th-century association of the color green with Ireland that changed it.
What about the pot of gold, you may ask? Leprechauns weren’t unemployed hooligans, you know -- no, they held jobs as cobblers. They, of course, wanted to keep whatever earnings they made from their shoemaking, so they’d stow their gold away in pots and hide them -- you guessed it -- at the end of a rainbow.
Now go catch yourself a leprechaun!