Celebrating St. Patrick's Day Like the Irish?

By Jay Sedmak
SNPJ Publications Editor/Manager

Just by reading the title, I think you can see where this blog post is heading. Or maybe not. Let’s just say it’s a little about what St. Patrick’s Day was, and a lot more about what St. Patrick’s Day has become. Confused? Bear with me for a few paragraphs...

St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated here in the United States since 1737. That’s right, this year marks the 277th year of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day American-style, with corned beef and cabbage, shamrock-inspired decorations, parades, and green beer – and just about anything else that’s green and reminds us of Ireland, the Irish, leprechauns and Van Morrison. After nearly three centuries, you’d think we’d get it right. But truth be told, the Americanized version of St. Patrick’s Day festivities couldn’t stray any further from the traditional Irish celebration.

First and foremost, the traditional St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t a drinking holiday, at least not to the extent that we celebrate (often to astonishing levels of excess) nowadays. While there may be a drink shared among family and friends, in Ireland a traditional St. Patrick’s Day is spent with family celebrating customs and heritage. And an Irish family meal on March 17? While cabbage is typically served, corned beef is not. Swap the corned beef with boiled bacon, which is served over wilted – not cooked-to-mush – cabbage leaves.

Just as the practice of eating corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish-American tradition, so too are the annual St. Patrick’s Day parades. The first parade in America was held in Boston in 1737 (neither the location nor the date is a surprise there) to open the festivities for that very first St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Since then, St. Patrick’s Day parades have spread to cities across the United States, including New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Savanna, Houston... the list goes on and on. Sure, the Irish now do their best parade strutting on March 17 too, and the folks in one Irish town can even boast of the world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade – covering a total of 100 yards, the distance separating the town’s two pubs.

At least we’re displaying the correct color on St. Patrick’s Day – it’s green, right? Well, not exactly. According to church tradition, the color blue was once associated with St. Patrick. The “wearin’ of the green” came about in the 18th century when Irish soldiers donned green uniforms on March 17 to attract attention to themselves. The green can also be attributed to the shamrock, the ubiquitous clover leaf that St. Patrick used to symbolize the Holy Trinity in his teachings and that the Irish wear every March 17. But in Ireland, wearing a shamrock had more to do with religion than it did with St. Patrick’s Day. Wearing a shamrock, a symbol of Irish Catholicism, was actually outlawed by Queen Victoria in the 19th century during a period of government-led religious persecution against Catholics. And just to make the distinction, it’s the three-leaf shamrock that has come to symbolize St. Patrick’s Day. The four-leaf clover may be lucky, but only because it’s tough to find – not because it represents the luck of the Irish.

Wow! We can’t even seem to get the name right. St. Patrick’s Day should be referred to as “St. Paddy’s Day,” not “St. Patty’s Day.” The Irish use “Paddy” when referring to a man named Patrick; Patty is a shortened version of the female Patricia. It’s probably best to play it safe and use the ambiguous “St. Pat’s Day” if you feel you absolutely must use a colloquial slang.

So there you have it. If you really, really want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like the Irish, gather the family, ditch the green beer and the corned beef and cabbage, skip the parade (unless you’re headed to the pub), and forget about wearing any green whatsoever. If, on the other hand, you want to join in on the festivities here in America, brush up on your brogue (which will come in handy as you pronounce several “Éirinn go Bráchs” throughout the day), decorate everything you own with glittery emerald green shamrocks, drink your fill of Guinness stout and Harp lager, and keep in mind that “everybody’s Irish on St. Patty’s Day.” Everybody here in America, that is.

blog comments powered by Disqus