St. Patty’s Day was the last simple holiday. No elves jumping from shelf to shelf. No over-the-top Easter baskets. No elaborate goodie bags. In fact, I always thought St. Patrick’s Day was a holiday for grown-ups. Oh, but I was so wrong. Enter the leprechaun trap, sneaky contraptions that are now routinely put together by elementary school kids to ensnare leprechauns so we can rob the magical creatures of their treasure.
For several years, I dodged participating in leprechaun traps because I thought they were silly. But when my daughter was in first grade, there was no more avoiding it. As St. Patty’s Day approached, she plotted elaborate schemes to hoodwink those little green men. I loved her passion and supported her. Ultimately, our first trap was a lackluster pile of tape atop a piece of aluminum foil. Of course, the leprechaun escaped, but he left a pile of M&Ms.
When my daughter was in second grade, our trap grew more sophisticated. It had to, because it became homework: her class read How to Catch A Leprechaun by Adam Wallace, and each student was asked to build a simple machine to capture the little bugger. We sketched plans, gathered materials, and managed to build a pretty decent trap. This time, she scored the coveted golden chocolate coins. She also got an A+ on the project. But I really don’t think the experience sparked much interest in Ireland or St. Patrick.
Don’t get me wrong, I love doing projects with my children, but these holiday gimmicks really raise the bar and distract us from the true meaning of the holiday. Case in point: Elf on the Shelf. For some reason, our shelf-sitting friend never visited earlier generations of children. The current generation, on the other hand, is entertained for the whole flippin’ holiday session by this hilarious jokester with his endless line of pranks and presents. What’s next? Maybe a watchful witch at Halloween, or a vigilant turkey for Thanksgiving, or a surveillant Sam for Independence Day. Get ready folks — these are book deals just waiting to happen.
There’s incredible pressure on American parents, and when it comes to leprechauns, we only have ourselves to blame. Leprechauns have nothing to do with St. Patrick; we smushed them in to create a mascot for our celebrations. Families in Ireland don’t create leprechaun traps, so says the director of Dublin’s National Leprechaun Museum, according to a Wall Street Journal interview. Maybe that’s partly because Irish folklore says leprechauns love tricking humans. If you trap one, they might give you three wishes or a pot of gold, but they also might completely screw you over.
No, the origins are closer to home: Pinterest posts, Insta-influencers and needing something to do after our annual elf-on-the-shelf competition. I do have friends who remember creating traps in the early 1990s in elementary school, so it’s not totally new, but it’s growing bigger in the social media spotlight.
But I finally made my peace with the trend — and a way to put our own family spin on it — when I stumbled across The Hungry Leprechaun by Mary Calhoun, which was published in 1962. It’s about an impoverished boy living in Ireland during a famine, who decides to trap a leprechaun with his hat. The boy demands gold to feed his family, but the scatterbrained leprechaun has forgotten his magic. Instead of producing gold, the leprechaun turns rocks into potatoes. Ultimately, the boy and the leprechaun feed the whole village with those potatoes.
Compared to the more vapid modern books about cardboard traps and sneaky escapes, I love how this story references Irish history while teaching kids to share wealth. If I’m going to cover my house in glitter and spend money on prizes, I’d love to have my kids learn some history and kindness in the process.
This year, we will probably do another trap. And honestly, I’m fine with that — as long as we’re not attempting to recreate Martha Stewart’s six-layer rainbow cake trap or one of those spring-pulley-lever masterpieces that engineers make with their kids on YouTube. I think back on the years when I avoided leprechaun traps, and now it feels a little silly that I was such a hardliner about it. We just needed our own family spin on it. We’ll focus more on sharing the leprechaun’s bounty and exploring Irish history. Our trap will have a note asking the leprechaun to leave goodies that can be passed out to our friends, family, and community. That’s what works for us right now. Maybe we will do something different next year. What I won’t do is sweat any of this. Holiday stress is the real trap — and I won’t let it catch me this year.
Allison Kenien is a writer with more than a decade of experience in education, marketing, and sales. She lives in Syracuse, New York, with her husband and two children. When she’s not working, you can find her running, snowboarding, golfing, hiking, or chasing after her kids.