It’s a week or so after St. Patrick’s day, but as the holiday passes and those green decorations start coming down in countless stores across America, people continue to acknowledge their “Irish heritage.” As many people say (on and off Facebook), “St. Patrick’s day is the one day a year where everyone is Irish.” This is true, but how many of these people have a significant amount of Irish blood in them? More often than not, they’re not actually Irish at all. Regardless, St. Patrick’s day is more of an American holiday anyway, so none of that really matters in retrospect.
I saw a fun shirt at the mall the other day; it was green with the words “Irishish (somewhat Irish).” It struck me as interesting because growing up in the United States, I’ve only met a handful of people who can say that 100 percent of their genealogy stems back to the Emerald Isle. But I know hundreds of people that have never actually seen Ireland, yet call themselves Irish.
It is said that St. Patrick was first celebrated by Irish Catholics because “he chased the snakes out of Ireland.” While I personally wish this was true, snakes are actually symbolic of Protestants. He didn’t actually chase them all out, and part of his mission was not to exile them but to convert them. He is also famous for using a clover, or shamrock, to explain the Holy Trinity. March 17 was selected as his saintly Feast Day by the Church because it marks the day of his death. At the start, the Irish did not party the way we do now, and many of the traditions that we hold dear were actually introduced to Ireland from other countries.
The Irish immigrated to places other than just the United States. A simple Wikipedia search will show you that there were and are communities all over Europe, and, with the age of exploration, also in Montserrat and Brazil. One of the most exciting parts of the St. Patrick’s Day season are the hundreds of parades. However, these started in the United States before they were adopted in Ireland. My first thought was that it seemed odd to me that a whole bunch of Irish immigrants would still heartily celebrate a man who was famous for kicking people out of a country they themselves had just opted to leave. Especially here, because the United States has just as many Protestants as Catholics, if not more. St. Patrick’s Day, especially in places other than Ireland, is gradually losing its religious significance in favor of a more culturally-based one.
First generation Irish families had to be missing Ireland because no two places in the world are alike, and many in that first-wave generation were not welcome. The depiction of Leprechauns that we are most familiar with was actually just based off of nasty jabs at the Irish in political cartoons and other propaganda made by the haters who felt threatened. I had the chance to experience Irish humor for myself; it is witty, smart, and sometimes quite offensive. The fact that an Irishman can tell a raunchy joke in a bar, and every other Irish person that hears it will laugh as if it were appropriate for a 3-year-old (because there unlike here it may very well be) tells you something about the Irish spirit. It is resilient, tough, and maybe just a wee bit spiteful. What better way to passively anger your enemies than get together and throw a bash in celebration of all the things that make your home worth missing?
I identify as an Irish-American, among many other things. Anytime my friends see something relating to Ireland or St. Patrick’s Day, they tell me about it. My grandmother was proud, because despite only being a fraction Irish herself, she would flaunt this part of her heritage every day by wearing green. I was raised in a family that taught me to be proud of where I come from and of my roots.
These are two different things in my mind. I am an American, because I was born and raised here. But I would not have been if a huge number of people further back in my family tree hadn't decided to give the United States a try. In gratitude, I try to give their customs a try, too. Around St. Patrick’s Day nothing makes me giddier than being with others that want to try and step into another person’s shoes.
I am Irishish; sometimes my blood runs vigorously green, and other times it doesn't. But I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with people whose families don’t hail from Ireland. If you attend a St. Patty’s Day parade in Long Island, you’ll see that the Italian-Americans and Latin Americans outnumber the Irish-Americans. They may be yelling “Cheers!” rather than “Slainte,” but they make an effort to step out of their American traditions, and listen to bagpipes.
I firmly believe that drinking alcohol is a universally human behavior when celebrating. And, yes, the Irish are known for it, but I’m fairly convinced that they only began to drink copious amounts of alcohol on St. Patrick’s Day when they came to the United States. We have our own drinking culture that has definitely imposed itself on the Irish traditions, but that’s what happens when cultures diffuse.
I will say that in every major city, in and outside of the U.S., that I’ve been to you can find at least one Irish pub. I agree with the people who believe that St. Patrick’s Day is more a celebration of multiculturalism than of St. Patrick himself. He brought the world together in a way he probably never imagined. I’ve found that the most Irish thing you can do is to have a conversation with whoever is sitting in the bar stool next to you. The more you talk, the more you’ll learn about people whose stories are different than yours. Listening more than anything teaches respect and acceptance. In this way I try to be “Irishish” every day of the year, inside and outside of the pub.