Happy O’Day of Spirit and Symbolism

St. Paddy's Day Pig

What is up with St. Patrick’s Day or should I say, our Americanized version of St. Patrick’s Day? It is one of those holidays that oftentimes doesn’t seem to have much point other than an excuse to bar hop ALL DAY long, act like a drunken ass, sing folk songs off-key and rather badly, and of course eat lots of green-hued foods. The marked meal of the day, corned beef and boiled cabbage is as far as some go to satisfy their celebratory mood. Look beneath the surface and you’ll find a history rich in culture and tradition whose perilous lot has given way to many indiscretions along the way culminating in a celebration that comprises an often misunderstood complexity. They don’t teach this stuff in public schools you know.

How it All Began

The history of this holiday began in Ireland over 1000 years ago and piously upheld.  It is a technically a religious holiday and the anniversary of St. Patrick’s death in fifth century Ireland. It is believed that he died on March 17 but we don’t actually know for sure. St. Patrick’s Day also coincides nicely with the Christian Lenten season. After the Great Potato Famine, Irish immigrants were coming to America in droves. Suffering cultural isolation and religious persecution, they began taking to the streets to celebrate their heritage and were thus portrayed by the media as drunken monkeys with a violent bent. Perhaps this is where St. Paddy’s Day behavior first began.

What’s for Dinner?

Growing up, I had the typical but not sure how traditional corned beef and cabbage for dinner every March 17. I cannot think of a more gag-inducing meal than limp and tasteless boiled cabbage with the lingering foul odor of dead skunks hiding under the porch along with artificially dyed and carcinogen producing processed corned beef. It is the nastiest, most vile meal I have ever encountered and as soon as I was old enough to navigate dinner elsewhere, that was precisely what I did. My mother made this meal solely for my father, the rest of us unwillingly along for the ride. Nothing else was served that night except a stack of rye bread and mustard, the only condiment. Once I had a family of my own, I strictly banned this loathsome meal from my home even though my husband actually likes it and flatly refused to go anywhere that served it without plenty of other options. As far as I am concerned, Irish cuisine is far better than this but it does have a lingering reputation for its food not being nearly as good as many other countries. I say, dispense with this disgusting symbolic meal and let’s work to change that mindset.

Green, Green As Far as the Eye Can See

Green clothing from hats to socks and if you happen to be wearing green underwear, you must share a peek. There is no better opportunity to proclaim your Irish-ness, no matter your nationality or how little Irish you actually are. If you aren’t wearing green on this greenest of holy days then you might be accused of being anti-Irish, even if you are not. These accusations may be hurled at you even if you don’t possess a drop of Irish blood. Your accuser doesn’t have to be Irish either. Go figure!

Green bagels, muffins, cupcakes, donuts, milkshakes are all the rage on this day. I used to think it was cute to indulge in a special green treat or buy Irish-themed treats for my kids. Today, I could care less about any of it though I did buy a green bagel for my teen this year who is still enamored to some degree of all things green. I only did so because I was in the bakery for something else and there they were, front and center, green marketing at its finest. I silently worried about the awful green dye used to make this concoction. Yes, I know they use a food grade dye, but still. My child was thrilled when I presented it to her, nearly giddy over a silly green bagel.

 The Americanization of a Foreign Holiday

I think it is safe to agree that St. Patrick’s Day belongs to everyone. The day has an overall sense of lightheartedness, fun, and comradery spanning across all cultures. It’s festive, homage-paying parades around the country are a jubilant celebration of culture and heritage. It is an all-inclusive celebration of all things Irish, full of symbolism, spirit, and swagger. Yes, it is also an excuse to raise a pint, or two, or ten and we have all seen our share of sloppy drunken idiots parading through our peripheries when they are not blatantly breathing their funky stench in our face. Yet, the heart of the day is just that.