Green beer, little men with red beards, rainbows, gold coins, and shamrocks–icons of one of America’s favorite excuses to drink–St. Patrick’s Day.
I’ve heard it said that everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but I disagree. You’re only Irish if you live in Ireland or have Irish ancestors. Otherwise, you are not Irish…at all. But feel free to live it up in shamrock bowler hats with gallons of green beer. I’ll admit I rarely drink alcohol…but green beer? Ick! (If you do, here’s a recipe.)
When it comes to Ireland, I prefer to think of “wee people”, potatoes, Celtic music, U2, the Cranberries, clover, and my half-Irish grandmother who liked to say, “Who needs the Irish? All they do is fight and drink.” My grandmother grew up with an alcoholic father and an unloving grandmother who truly believed in the “wee people” so her view of the Irish was slightly askew due to her unpleasant reality.
Still I proudly claim my Irish heritage, be it only 12.5% of my ancestry. (I’m also 12.5% Scottish, 12.5% German, 12.5 % Swiss, 25% Ukranian, and 25% Austrian [which my mom tried to say is practically German, but I reject that statement on the grounds that it's much cooler to be Austrian.]) A wee bit Irish is better than no Irish at all!
There are various widespread traditions in the U.S. such as dyeing various bodies of water green such as canal entrances, fountains, rivers, drinking water, the ocean…oh, wait, I got a little carried away there. Apparently, New Orleans has a Mardi Gras-like parade in which strings of beads, cabbage and potatoes are thrown off floats (it’s true–read about that and more here). I’ve also learned you can pinch people who don’t wear green on St. Patty’s Day, and you can drink as much beer as you want without getting drunk.
Interestingly enough, the actual man for who the wild holiday is named wasn’t the party hardy type as tradition would have it. He was Patrick of Wales, a British-born missionary to Ireland, who was believed to have used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. Kidnapped at the age of 16, Patrick managed to escape six years later, whereupon he entered a monastery having renounced his pagan ways. After being taught in Gaul, he discovered his mission in life was to convert the pagans.
Finally, he went to Ireland, taught people about Christianity for 30 years, and set up school and churches. The Celtic Druids considered him an enemy and threat to paganism, so he was regularly arrested and imprisoned. Patrick died on March 17, AD 461. He is also said to have driven the snakes from Ireland with a sermon (even though snakes aren’t native to Ireland) as well as raise the dead (more info). Rumor has it that Patrick was also the man who witnessed to and inspired Brigid, another one of Ireland’s most beloved saints (read more about St. Brigid).
Makes you wonder what St. Patrick would think of the glitzy green bow ties, “Kiss me, I’m Irish” pins, and McDonald’s Shamrock shakes (they’re pretty tasty, I’m sure he’d like ‘em). Since St. Patrick himself wasn’t actually Irish, I guess everyone really can be Irish on St. Patrick’s day…so pass the Lucky Charms and green milk and let’s get celebratin’.
You don’t have to be Irish to love Shamrock shakes. Yum! Apparently Shamrock shakes were discontinued from some Mccy D’s for a while…how sad!
More random Irish sh-tuff…
*”Kiss me, I’m Irish”–originates with the Blarney Stone, a stone that if kissed endows the kisser with great speaking skills (more info).
*Erin Go Braugh means “Ireland forever” (more info).
*The movie, Far and Away, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
*All about leprechauns
*Famous female pirate, Grace O’Malley of Ireland