It’s always been a bit of a mystery to me why March 17th is a U.S holiday. I understand that most Christian holidays carried over from Catholicism but today isn’t even slightly religious. Maybe the Catholics do something special but I couldn’t even tell you what someone has to do to become a saint. The veneration of saints and the Virgin Mary is so oddly Catholic that I don’t know what to think about it. I only know of two saints, Paul and Patrick and something tells me Apostle Paul wouldn’t want us to make much of him. He was just that kind of guy, the kind of guy who understood very well the reaches and shortfalls of his humanity. None of us are saints. As a non-Catholic and non-Irish, I don’t know how to celebrate a traditional holy day meant to honor a saint that’s become a secular holiday for the Irish diaspora to celebrate their ancestry. Maybe this holiday isn’t for me, but if that’s the case why do I have to wear green?
Don’t laugh, but when I think of St. Patrick, I always think of the little guy on the box of Lucky Charms. Yeah, I know how wrong that is but there’s no universal image of St. Patrick in my brain’s database. And yes, I know, St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish, but I still like to pretend he looks Irish — short, pale, red hair, green eyes, buckle hat, pointy shoes. Wait, that’s a leprechaun…but don’t be too insulted if you’re Irish or Irish-American or even part Irish. I think of the man on my box of instant grits when I think of Quakers. Please note this is not the same thing as conjuring up images of Aunt Jemima when you think of Black women. That would be racist.
So how do people outside the culture of leprechauns, four leaf clovers, rainbows and gold celebrate today? Well, one of my aunts made corned beef and sauerkraut. the latter I believe to be not Irish, but German. Or maybe she said cabbage and I’m confusing my white vegetables with one another. She’s also planning to bake Irish soda bread. I pretended to be excited though I didn’t have the faintest clue to what she was talking about. What’s even funnier was that she’d completely forgotten today’s St. Patrick’s Day but after seeing the corned beef and cabbage in the grocery store she developed a taste for it.
What Irish foods will I enjoy today? None. And no Guinness for me, either; it’s much too dark. Maybe I’ll have a couple of Magner’s before I bundle up in all green and head out for an unofficial St. Patty’s day bar crawl. Although that’s probably not what Irish Americans have in mind as the best practices in Irish culture. Still, what else are we supposed to do other than drink? Leprechauns aren’t real. Nor are there any pots of gold at the end of perfect rainbows. And no one I know even pretends at getting their kids to believe in that fantasy. I’m certainly not going to a Catholic mass to celebrate this hugely secular holiday. (Oh my gosh! I just remembered another saint I know — St. Valentine! I know three!) I guess I don’t feel too badly. If partying from sun up to 2 o’clock in the morning is good enough for the Irish diaspora and I’m obliged to wear green or be pinched, then it’s also my duty to appreciate the Irish Americans and celebrate alongside them with as many Irish whiskey shots as I can stomach.
As I mentioned before in the post about the relevance of Black History Month, we should take pride in the diversity of American people. We should care to know about the histories of people before they landed on Plymouth Rock or before Plymouth Rock landed on us. Like it or not — and I love it — we’re all here and we’ve all made incredible contributions to society. If we lived in a perfect world, there’d be no need to distinguish between African-American and Irish-American, but I’m a little embarrassed that I don’t know much about Irish Americans and I can only think ofone famous Irish; and he’s just a cartoon character. The little Irish American history I do know isn’t a beacon of light. Everyone’s heard it said that the Irish were treated as second-class citizens when they arrived in the U.S and in an effort to be accepted as “white” like other European immigrants they were racist against African-Americans. I know enough about South Boston to know to never go there and especially not at night. South Boston’s been gentrified so that same sentiment towards my people is likely no longer there, but I’m not curious enough to find out.
Still, I celebrate. Because we all deserve to shake off the ugliness from our pasts and show one another that we don’t have to be saints; humanity is good enough. I celebrate because it’s a testimony to us all that we can be down on our luck, as the Irish were during the potato famine, and create a better life with a whole lot of faith, a whole lot of patience and a whole lot of hard work. That’s the luck of the Irish and we can all relate to it.
Erin go bragh? I’ll drink to that.