By Mary Clark
Image above: Source
The United States of America is a land built by immigrants. One of the most exciting things that comes from this foundation, is the way that all these immigrant cultures cohesively mix together in our society. Not only is this intermingling of cultures interesting and exciting, but also important to who we are as individuals in our own cultures, and in the nation as a whole.
Among the greatest facets of cultures that mix together are traditions and holidays. The most prevalent right now is, of course, St. Patrick's Day (SPD). We all know the American traditions that are associated with this holiday, such as: wearing green and pinching someone if they don't wear it, and partying...lots of partying.
But, just like with many other holidays, the way these celebrations change and sometimes become distorted over time disregard the true meaning, and importance of the holiday itself.
So, in the spirit of St. Paddy and the Emerald Isle, here are some things to remember about St. Patrick's Day, and ways to really celebrate it to celebrate culture.
1. St. Patrick's Day was celebrated in America BEFORE Ireland.
The first St. Patrick's Day parade was on March 17, 1762 by Irish soldiers fighting for the British Army, in New York City. I know what you're thinking: that can't be! It must've been in Ireland.
Well no. According to USA Today and Eamonn McGrath, Irishmen in America began to celebrate St. Patrick as a way to never forget where they came from. They were homesick and wanted to celebrate their heritage. It was only later when it was celebrated in Ireland. While the Catholic holy feast day of St. Patrick had been celebrated in Ireland as early as the 9th and 10th centuries, it only became a public holiday in 1903.
2. If you get pinched for not wearing green, blame the leprechauns.
I hope green looks good on you, because if not, we all know the tradition of getting pinched when we are greenless. This is one of the fun, interesting, legends that surround some holidays. Story has it, that leprechauns and fairies could only see you if you weren't wearing green. If you weren't they would pinch you (because fae are really annoying and actually evil, don't you know). There are also other, entirely more plausible ideas, that people wore green simply to show pride in the homeland, and when you didn't people made sure you remembered.
3. There's a reason people party for SPD...and it's not because they like to get drunk.
The Irish culture is one built around family, social relationships, and connectedness. Because of this, pub culture is a huge thing in Ireland, not in the sense of "Hey, let's go party!!" but more like being together for storytelling and quality time. This is extremely boiled down to the essential idea, but still, it stands. Instead of getting rip roaring drunk just because there is a holiday excuse, Irish culture favors beer, and the history of it in their home country. Eamonn McGrath spoke on it in the USA Today article, saying "pub culture was never about getting drunk." It just so happens that when you're around several people you feel close too, you may get a little rowdy.
4. Don't celebrate; experience!
There are some aspects of SPD that are pretty straight forward. Green, shamrocks, river dancing, and what have you. Just like with any other holiday, these are the largely commercial aspects, though. The number one most important thing about holidays, and culture, in general, is that you shouldn't just celebrate it, but experience and appreciate it.
So thanks to my trusty article, and a very proud Irishwoman classmate of mine, here are some ideas of what you would really experience in an Irish St. Patrick's Day, and things to appreciate about the culture.
- St. Patrick's Day in Ireland is a national holiday, so no work or school! Instead, families would celebrate by going to mass, wearing shamrock, drinking beer, and going to parades.
- Experience real Irish food! This includes, soda bread, Shepherd's pie, Irish boxty, and other simple "peasant" foods.
- Experience real Irish drink! Not just Guinness, but Harp, Murphy's, Smithwick's and Beamish & Crawford, too. And don't forget: Jameson, Bushmills and Tullamore D.E.W., and Bailey's Irish Crème.
- Experience real Irish music! You can't tell stories without music (just ask Disney) and Irish culture is all about stories. Music is also a true look into the soul of a culture, so this is imperative to appreciating Irish culture, and St. Paddy's Day. Some recommendations? Skibbereen and Finnegan's Wake for sure.
- Experience real Irish history! Irish immigrants literally helped build our country, they lived impoverished, and were persecuted for their heritage. When you're partying it up for St. Patrick's, appreciate the sacrifices and hard work of those that live that culture.
St. Patrick's Day is one of my favorite holidays, and for many others as well. It's important, though, to not only celebrate holidays just because it's a time to let loose, but to understand the history and culture behind them. So in the spirit of the St. Patrick's Day, I'll leave you all with a one of my favorite St. Patrick's Day poems:
When Irish eyes are smilin' and Irish smiles are big,
When Irish hearts are hopeful and the piper plays a jig,
When Irish stew is bubblin' and the soda bread is hot,
And Irish tea is steepin' in a little Irish pot,
When the room is warm with laughter and the songs are bright and bold,
And there's poetry and magic in the stories that are told,
Isn't it a Blessing?
Isn't it just grand to know a little part of you belongs to Ireland?
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
May your blessings outnumber the Shamrocks that grow!
The author is especially grateful to Rachel Stires for providing both information and insight into the greatness and depth of Irish culture.
Mary Clark is an editor with The Galleon and a senior at Christian Brothers University.