It’s my favorite time of year, St. Patrick’s Day. Clocks spring forward and daylight devours night, colorful buds sprout on deserted branches and storefront windows display rainbows, four-leaf clovers, and cauldrons full of gold signifying the start of the festivities. Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, especially in the United States.
Who is St. Patrick to the Irish?
He is the Patron Saint of Ireland, credited with bringing Christianity to the Emerald Isle in the latter half of the 5th Century. It is believed he died on March 17 and the Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, Anglican Church and Eastern Orthodox faiths observe this date to celebrate his life and missionary work.
My Irish friends don’t understand the fuss Americans make regarding their holiday being widely celebrated in the United States with elaborate parades, month-long festivals and shamrock colored shakes at McDonald’s. For the Irish, it’s a bank holiday and businesses, schools and even pubs are closed (outside of major cities). Many Catholics attend Mass, people dress up in green, pin a corsage to their lapel and little girls fasten flowing ribbons in their hair. The Catholic Church grants a dispensation on St. Patrick’s Day giving people the day off from Lenten observances and the children take full opportunity to consume sweets and adults relish in a pint of beer or glass of whiskey all in the name of St. Paddy.
A family friend, Jean O’Callaghan of Lahinch, Ireland, told me, “I’m a bit of a cynic or something, but for a long time now, I am not sure he (St. Patrick) existed. A bit like Santa Claus but was a super marketing coup.”
When Jean was younger, there were small parades in Ireland comprised of boy scouts, the army and local brass bands or football (rugby) clubs. Nothing like today’s sizable parades in Chicago and New York and definitely no corned beef!
In the United States, we adorn green top hats, drink green beer and Guinness, march in parades but mostly we crowd pubs and restaurants to listen to Irish music and toast our Irish comrades across the Atlantic Ocean. We drink Baileys Irish Cream, dance the Irish jig and embrace our often non-existent Irish roots with buttons declaring, Kiss me I am Irish or Irish for the Day and my favorite I Bleed Green. The American ensemble typically consists of floppy hats, green shamrock sweaters and beads. We love beads. I admit to wearing a Leprechaun inspired hat and Kelly green fitted jacket every holiday.
In 2016, my father became an Irish Citizen after a year’s wait. It took both of us working side by side examining difficult to read ship manifests and his family’s genealogy reports from County Mayo to piece together his family’s 150-year-old history before he could apply for citizenship. The Irish Government grants citizenship to foreign-born children and grandchildren of Irish-born citizens. When I asked my dad why he wanted to be Irish, he said, “It was important to honor his ancestors who strived to give him a better life.” My dad is a proud Irishman, the only true Irishman in our family (my mother maintains German roots). His paternal grandfather hailed from County Mayo and his maternal great grandparents from County Meath. I treasured the time I spent with my dad working on his citizenship papers and while my DNA report states that I am only 68 percent Irish/Great Britain, on St. Patrick’s Day I am 100 percent Irish.