This is a picture of a shamrock:
Legend has it that St. Patrick employed the shamrock as a visual aid to teach the non-Christian Irish people about the concept of the Holy Trinity, the Three-in-One. Apocryphal, probably, but not unlikely and a good story anyway.
This is a picture of a four-leaf clover:
You can distinguish the latter from the former by the fact that the latter has, well, four leaves. The former has but three. I say you can distinguish between them, since it appears that advertisers cannot. Every year at this time I observe a distressing number of ads promising St. Patrick's Day savings or specials, which, to make that all-important link to the feast day, stick in clip art of...a four-leaf clover.
I don't think the saint employed a four-leave clover to instruct the Irish pagans about anything. Yet there it is, over and over, in print, television, and internet ads.
To be fair, the ads oftentimes tout the "luck o' the Irish" in their blather, which tends to mitigate my critique somewhat, since the four-leaf clover is considered "lucky." I'm not sure why the Irish are considered to be "lucky": It seems that much of the island's history consists of being invaded by others and oppressed in their own homeland, but whatever.
I can claim claim with certainty to no more than 25% Irishness--Grandpa Reynolds was proud of his Irish heritage, but in tracing antecedents back to about 1500, when the trail dead-ends, I end up in England, but Grandma Reynolds was the result of the joining of the McGrail and the Moore families, both of which hailed from the Old Sod. So my dad could be justifiable proud of being Irish, at least 50%. He would have been front and center at yesterday's St. Patrick's Day Parade in Sioux Falls, but alas. Like me, though, he would have been unhappy that someone--the organizers, the city, whoever--decided to relocate the parade to the nearest Saturday, after 20+ years of always being on March 17 unless the seventeenth was a Sunday. In the past, that tradition worked to the parade's favor: One year my wife and I and my folks ended up having lunch with a representative of the Irish government, based in Chicago, who could attend our parade only because it wasn't on a Saturday!
But so it goes.
It's annoying that the day has become an excuse for drunkenness, and annoying that various retailers and merchandizers play up on that. As someone of Irish heritage, I find placards such as "Irish Today, Hung Over Tomorrow" to be more than offensive. Or the T-shirt that reads, "I Still Can't Remember Last St. Patrick's Day." Charming. I have it on good authority that, in Ireland of all places, people who observe the day tend to do so by going to Mass, perhaps followed by a special dinner including a toast to the saint. What a concept! I'm told too that American-style parades are starting to pop up in some Irish cities, but that this is a recent development.
Me, I plan to secure a six-pack of Guinness between now and Tuesday, and come Tuesday evening will uncap one with a nod to my Irish ancestors. And maybe even St. Patrick himself...even though he wasn't Irish!