Tis St. Patrick's Day, let the festivities begin! As everyone in America knows, today is the day when everyone claims some Irish lineage, wears tacky green clothing, and gets blotto drunk. Somehow, this is supposed to celebrate the rich tapestry of Irish history. The reality of course, is that it's just another excuse to get drunk, wear silly clothes, and party. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Everyone knows that the day is associated with St. Patrick, but not much else (other than some nonsense about him driving all the snakes from Ireland). Today is the anniversary of his death
in 461 AD. The holiday began sometime before 1600 and has been celebrated ever since. It began as a religious holiday, and has gradually evolved into what we have now. The reason for the drinking is that it was originally considered a one day break from Lent, so parishioners would drink and feast.
But what about the green stuff? Where did that come from? St. Patrick originally taught the "Holy Trinity" to the native people using the 3-leaved shamrock
. As a symbolic nod to this innovation, the Irish would wear a shamrock on their clothes on St. Patrick's Day. This has evolved into wearing green things in general, and hideous affronts to fashion specifically. In Ireland, though, they still honor the tradition, which may be in jeopardy this year due to a shamrock shortage
Back here in America, there will be no shortage of tacky green stuff (including tacky green beer), and people will wear shirts and sweatshirts with Irish slogans and greetings. One of the most common is "the luck of the Irish". One has to wonder what luck they are referring to. One only has to listen to the beautiful yet morose Irish folk songs to know that they've had a hard lot in human history. There's is a history full of wars and hardship
through the centuries, even up to the Sinn Fein-led independence and then the Troubles as an epilogue.
Those that tried to escape the potato famine
didn't fair much better. They faced discrimination, hatred, and mistrust on a level much worse than current immigrants (legal and otherwise) face today. Like the "Hispanics" do nowadays, the Irish worked hard and built America, and were spit upon for their efforts. Some were conscripted into the army immediately upon setting foot on shore, and shipped off to fight for the Union army during the Civil War. The Statue of Liberty has this passage engraved in its base:Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Has that ever really been true?
Some towns and cities have chosen convenience over tradition and already held their St. Patrick's Day parades over the weekend (commerce trumps tradition in America), but there are still plenty of things to do
today. Just try to remember the history behind the holiday today as you celebrate, and be respectful of the culture of a people that - despite the hardship and hatred they've faced through the centuries - still allow all of us to be honorary Irish for a day.
And please - skip the green beer and drink some real Irish beer. If you don't like Guinness, there's always Smithwicks and Harp...