Monday, March 17, 2014

St Patrick’s Day

I’ve never been a big fan of St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not Irish (well, possibly a little), and as I got older I thought it was all over-the-top. But, is it an American invention?

The US Embassy in Ireland made the video above, “5 Ways Americans Invented St. Patrick's Day” as a kind of light-hearted look at the American influence on St Patrick’s Day celebrations. Was it intended to be a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun? Some people clearly don’t think so.

Comments on the YouTube page included the declarative, like “Obviously a joke just not funny,” through to the appalled: “This is so obnoxious I can't believe it is real. As an American, I find this embarrassing.” And there was the mixed-bag criticism: “This is utterly cringeworthy. St. Patrick's Day is nothing but a booze-fuelled mess anyway. Nice to see Dublin is the only place in Ireland that is relevant, apparently.”

One comment (link takes you to the YouTube page of the video) was more accurate, however:
“Americans did not invent Saint Patrick's Day, which is an ancient Christian feast day, they just invented deeply tacky celebrations with an excess of lurid green elements (tolerable shades do exist) and inappropriate Scottish kilts (which Irish people do not wear), fake leprechaun outfits (leprechauns do not wear green) and fake-coloured quasi-‘red’ beards (leprechauns do not have red hair). It is noteworthy how leprechauns are never seen any more; they have been shamed into deeper reclusiveness than ever.

“It is all a typical emigrants' descendants' phony and embarrassing misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the parent culture. And many Irish people in Ireland are stupid enough to reproduce the tackier elements with misplaced enthusiasm, especially in recent years by dressing up in those nasty, fake ‘leprechaun’ outfits. Why could we not have a classy cultural celebration? It is our national day, yet in Ireland we have blindly embraced ignorant American shabbiness and hideous solecisms. Shame on us.

“The Irish Times skewered this one with the headline: ‘Americans invented St Patrick’s Day, claim Americans’."
Obviously Americans didn’t invent St. Patrick’s DAY and I certainly didn’t think the video was claiming that. Instead, the video was claiming that Americans created the over-the-top public celebration of it. Given how often Americans do that (Halloween, anyone?), I think there’s a lot of truth to THAT claim.

My parents enjoyed St Patrick’s Day. My mother liked to think she had Irish ancestry (although, to date, we haven’t found any), and wore green. My dad wore a green tie. He also often made corned beef and cabbage. My parents usually had a few whiskeys. My dad probably told somewhat crude or ribald jokes with a fake Irish accent (he actually was pretty good at imitating accents). I just watched, mostly—though I did like the corned beef and cabbage.

As a kid, I used to wear a green shirt on St. Patrick’s Day, and our primary school teachers often had some sort of activity. I don’t remember any of them using the opportunity to teach us anything about Ireland, or even about Irish immigrants to the USA, which was a huge missed opportunity, in my opinion.

By high school, I was already pretty much over it all, but I remember one thing vividly: Our school librarian used to wear an orange shirt on St. Patrick’s Day because, he said, he was Protestant. He never tried to explain anything more. At the time, I thought he was a bit of a dick, but later—when I read about the history of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland (which were raging at the time) and the significance of orange (and the Orange Order) in that turbulent time, I came to realise he was actually being a bit of a jerk.

Personally, I don’t see any harm in all the current St Patrick’s Day nonsense: If people enjoy it then they should enjoy it. None of my business. Just don’t expect me to join in all that over-the-top green-beer-soaked hoopla, no matter who invented it.

Update: The Huffington Post covers this, too.

1 comment:

Logan said...

I have Irish heritage, and my Aunt's birthday is St Paddy's Day (doesn't get more Irish than that!). I don't wear green, because (1) I'm not Catholic and (2) I have Irish blood. I have been known to wear white in the past to reflect the peaceful part of the flag [green = Catholic, orange = Protestant]. I'm wearing blue today because I didn't think about the date when I got dressed today. :)

Still, the only celebrating today that I will do is call my Aunt. In the past, Darren and I have gone for a true Irish breakfast, or to an Irish pub to listen to some great music and/or see some dancers.