I won't be wearing green today. I might wear orange. I imagine I'll get some comments. "Where's your green?" "Aren't you Irish?"
Yes, yes. I'm Scots-Irish. And my husband is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. But when it comes to Saint Patrick's Day, it's complicated. To begin with, wearing green is a tradition that pays homage to the Roman Catholics of Ireland. And Ireland is not solely a Catholic place. (Wearing orange honors the Protestants of Ireland.) Probably the best solution would be to wear the colors of the Irish flag: green, orange, and white. Green for Catholics, orange for Protestants, and white for the peace between them.
But even that is far too complicated for most Americans who celebrate Saint Patrick's Day. This article from Time describes how a religious observation of Ireland's patron saint became something else entirely.
Does that mean we shouldn't celebrate? No, but it clarifies something most people don't really get: St. Patrick's Day is not an Irish holiday. It's a creation of Irish-American immigrants. And has suffered quite a bit from rampant commercialism, I hasten to add.
When the Irish first came to this country they were greeted with prejudice and exclusion. Newspaper articles and cartoons depicted the Irish as an inferior race: easily excitable, stupid, prone to drunkenness. Signs went up in shop windows to inform job-seekers that No Irish Need Apply. The expression, "The Luck of the Irish" comes from the widely-held belief that the Irish were incapable of great accomplishments, so if they achieved anything out of the ordinary, it was just "luck". "During the heyday of anti-Irish sentiment in the US, the Irish were considered a distinct and inferior race more similar to Africans than to 'proper' whites..." Racism, pure and simple.
Irish immigrants persisted in America despite this despicable treatment. And the evolution of St. Patrick's Day is an expression of their experiences. I do not begrudge them their celebration. But it's not Irish.
Ireland is a beautiful land. The Irish people have a wonderful cultural heritage. Irish traditional ("trad") music is exquisite and Irish food is wholesome and delicious. Irish folk tales arise from a reverence for the land and are full of wonder and humour. Precious little of this comes into play in the U.S..
This is what being Irish is not: desserts with green frosting and Lucky Charms cereal decorations. Shamrock Shakes. Green Beer. Corned beef and cabbage. Excessive public drunkenness. Dyeing rivers green. Rainbow-leprechaun crafts. Kiss me I'm Irish. Little cartoons of leprechauns which are really an Aunt Jemima-esque caricature of the Irish people.
I'm proud of my Irish heritage. I have visited Ireland with my Irish husband and his family, and I hope to return to learn more and experience more. Someday I hope to make that good brown bread or soda farls as well as my mother-in-law. And I'm blessed that I have a husband who can play Celtic harp for me any day of the year.
Enjoy your celebrations today. I won't say a word. Just don't pinch me.
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