Traditionally speaking, the arrival of March 17 on the calendar brings a few things to mind. March Madness, brackets and rabid basketball fans. Spring training, torrential downpours and frozen little leaguers. Two days past the Ides of March, Caesar’s ghost at rest again.
And, of course, it’s Saint Patrick’s Day. Which means that it is time to put on something green, head down to the pub, drink to excess and, if you’re very lucky, get into a fight. That is certainly the traditional way to celebrate this pseudo-holiday, at least in America.
In Ireland, a country from which my father sailed at the age of 21, the passage of Saint Patrick’s Day is far less remarked. It is little more than the Roman Catholic feast of Saint Patrick, a Roman born in Scotland, abducted in a raid and sold into slavery in Ireland. He escaped at 20, inspired by a vision from God, and returned as a priest to minister to the pagans of Ireland. You gotta admit, that’s a good story (unless you’re a snake).
The American version of this saint’s day was inspired by the heaving arrival of a million Irish people, mostly young men, who fled the Emerald Isle during the potato famine over 150 years ago. These Irish lads had a reputation for working hard, drinking harder and fighting so much that many Irish laborers were replaced by Chinese immigrants on big projects such as the transcontinental railroad.
That reputation, which prompted Notre Dame to anoint their jerseys with a boxing leprechaun, is now firmly ingrained. Instead of taking exception to this less than savory view, the Irish (and by default, Catholic) community in which I was raised in San Francisco absolutely revels in the limelight (pun intended) of Saint Patrick’s Day.
My belief is that the Irish people, especially those now firmly entrenched in the American adventure, are simply too full of spirit to worry about such a thing as a negative stereotype. While a few may be hard drinkers, fighters and rascals, many are also known as cops and firefighters, world travelers and writers of some of literature’s best poetry and prose.
All in all, the feast of Saint Patrick is a fitting day to celebrate all things Irish, even if the man himself had the audacity to be born somewhere near the Scottish border. So instead of fighting a useless battle against a cliche, let me suggest an alternative. Irish or not, throw on something green, head to the pub tonight and tell all the girls (or guys) to kiss you because you’re Irish. And tell them Patty sent you.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day. And always have a designated driver.