Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 03.24.18
Stanstead, Quebec


The Wearing of the Ochre, or Happy St. Pablo's Day!

STANSTEAD, QUEBEC | I recently received the results of my ancestry DNA testing, and in addition to 70 percent of my genetic roots originating in Great Britain, and Scotland, I was very excited to learn that 12 percent of my genetic makeup springs from the Iberian Peninsula! I was even more excited after I looked at a map and found out exactly where the Iberian Peninsula is!

That's Spain and Portugal, which is amazing because whenever I've stood on the pounding surf of the Atlantic and gazed eastward across that watery divide, my eyes have not been drawn to the northern isles but have drifted further south. I thought it was a problem with my eyeglass prescription, but no! It was Portugal, drawing me home, or as they say in Portuguese: "Seu compromisso foi cancelado."

So naturally I will be celebrating my Portuguese roots, and there's no better day than today, because, as I'm sure you know, today is St. Pablo's Day! Top o' the Fado to you!

We get so wrapped up in the modern trappings of St. Pablo's Day that we sometimes forget that St. Pablo was a real person, with a real history and a real gambling problem. So allow me to refresh your memory:

St. Pablo was born in the village of Mira-Mira-Anduwahl sometime in the 5th century. Historians aren't sure exactly when but it is believed around 2:15 in the afternoon. According to early Christian writings, at age 16, Pablo was captured by a roving band of haberdashers, who forced the young boy into the gruelling world of hat blocking.

Pablo was converted to Christianity after listening to a roving missionary whose heart wasn't really into it, giving rise to the nickname "Pablo The Easily Convinced."

But Pablo also had conviction, and after many days of fasting and pious prayer, he miraculously escaped his captors when they accidentally left the door open.

Pablo then travelled throughout Iberia performing miracles, including the Miracle of the Necktie Tied Perfectly Every Time, the Miracle of the Not-Mushy Croutons and the Miracle of Pull My Finger.

St. Pablo is perhaps best known for driving the wombats out of Portugal. Today, wombats can only be found in Australia. Consequently, Pablo is known as the Patron Saint of Taking Things Way Too Far.

Today, St. Pablo's Day is celebrated around the world and elsewhere as well. It has evolved from a Christian feast day to a secular holiday celebrating Portuguese heritage and the imposition of that Portuguese heritage on others, whether 12 percent of their ancestral DNA comes from the Iberian Peninsula or not.

Modern celebrants wear ochre-coloured outfits and eat ochre-coloured foods including arroz de sarrabulho (rice stewed in pigs blood) and arroz com fiapos de secador (rice with dryer lint). They also drink copious amounts of ochre port, which is made by mixing regular port with chocolate milk, a concoction known as coagulando meu estomago ("my stomach will be emptying itself soon.")

At this point, the celebrants take to the street with the traditional grandes palitos ("large sticks") and T-shirts sporting comical versions of St. Pablo as well as the mythical symbol of Portugal, the vestigial tail. Some wear novelty ball caps that read, "Goose Me, I'm Portuguese." They then confront passersby and grill them on whether they are wearing ochre.

"Ochre, ochre, where's your ochre?" they chant.

"But I'm not Portuguese," the hapless victim might say. "I'm 30 percent Scandinavian and 70 percent water."

"Hapless, hapless!" the St. Pabby's Day celebrants cry. They raise their sticks high into the air. They scream a Portuguese war cry. They lean in menacingly, their breath reeking of ochre-port and dryer lint. And then they take their victim shopping for some ochre accessories at the nearest dollar store.

As a result, many people pretend to be Portuguese on St. Pablo's Day because, honest to god, what with the parades, the roving rotisseries, the constant threat of "Lisbon litigation" (AKA getting punched in the custard tart) and the all-around piri piri pressure, it's just easier to go along, even if you've never had a single thing to do with Portuguese culture in your non-Portuguese life.

As for me, with my rich Iberian blood, I'll be spending today celebrating and trafficking in vaguely offensive cultural stereotypes. And so I'd like to leave you with this Portuguese blessing: "May your road be free of potholes, may your pigs blood be savoury, and may you be halfway to Braga before your family knows you wiped out their savings."

Although, come to think of it, I could be Spanish.