Today could be called Catholic Pants Day, not because there is such a thing as Catholic pants (is there?) but because the English language is indebted to a Catholic saint for the word “pants,” and his feast happens to be today.
Saint Pantaleon of Nicomedia (d. 303) was a nobleman and the Roman Emperor’s physician when he apostatized. Fortunately, he was brought back to the Faith by a holy priest who convinced him that Jesus Christ was the greatest of all physicians. When a persecution began, no amount of torture could induce Pantaleon to abandon his Savior again, and thus the former apostate died a holy martyr. In the Greek East, Pantaleon is honored as one of the “Great Martyrs”; in the Latin West, he is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, invoked for consumptive diseases.
But what does this have to do with pants? Nothing, really. But centuries later Pantaleon’s cult was popular in Venice, partly because his name resembles the Venetian battle cry Piante Lione (“Plant the Lion”). Over time, the term Pantalone came to designate a Venetian character in Italian comedy; and since the character generally appeared wearing distinctive Venetian breeches, the breeches came to be known as pantaloons, or”pants” for short.
Saint Pantaleon’s Day thus presents us with a double irony. First, our most common word for trousers comes from a saint who probably never wore or saw a pair in his life. Second, given the temperature on July 27, we celebrate the eponymous patron of pants on one of the days we are least inclined to wear them.
In honor of the odd migration of the saint’s name, how about this Prohibition-era libation:
Ants in the Pants Cocktail
1 oz. gin
½ oz. Grand Marnier
½ oz. sweet vermouth
1 dash lemon juice
Pour all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake forty times. Strain into a cocktail glass.
So tonight, say a prayer that all those who have fallen away from the Faith may come back like St. Pantaleon. Then, fill your glass to the brim and shout, Piante Lione! (Pants are optional.)