The Irish are an enthusiastic and hearty bunch. So much so, that St. Patrick’s Day has become a day of celebration for everyone. “Everyone is a little bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” I find this fascinating… no other cultural or ethnic day of observance seems to have become more all encompassing than the day dedicated to the “wearing of the green” – other than, of course, the primary religious holidays for various Faiths.
As a matter of fact, St. Patrick’s Day was originally a religious feast day for the patron saint of Ireland. However over time it seems to have become more about celebrating a culture and a country, and having a whole ‘lotta fun. Perhaps St. Patrick’s Day is embraced so robustly because it holds with it a promise of spring after a long winter. Or, maybe it is so popular because it is has somehow been transformed into a reason to not only accept, but encourage, drinking heavily all day long, and eating traditional Irish comfort foods. Some of the original meaning behind the many traditions of the celebration have been lost, accept to those who truly are Irish and remember their history classes or church school lessons. For example, I never knew the legend that St. Patrick used a shamrock to visually illustrate the concept of the Holy Trinity. I just thought the plant was symbolic because it grows rampant in that country… either way, people everywhere will be wearing the green leaves on this day.
As far as I know, I have not a drop of Irish blood in me, accept through marriage. My husband is at least partially Irish. He certainly has some of the recognizable traits – loyalty, good sense of humor, quick temper, blue eyes, a fondness for Irish Whiskey and meat ‘n potato meals. At the risk of offending anyone, I will admit that I don’t care for beer or whiskey, am not a huge fan of Irish music, don’t even really like the color green, and only made corned beef and cabbage tonight because my husband enjoys it. But I do find all of the frivolity around the day amusing.
I think about other nationalities, cultures and ethnicities in this melting pot we call the United States, and wonder if any of them come close to the kind of universal acceptance and participation as this day of green. Certainly, some cities, towns and neighborhoods that have a robust population of people with shared origins will host festivals, food fairs or parades. From time to time we’ll hear of Italian, Puerto Rican, German and Polish festivals and celebrations. But generally speaking, those of us who are not part of those cultures don’t go running off to the Party Store to buy hats, corsages, noise makers and giant drink glasses to jump into the action.
And what of the more lesser-known, or not as celebrated backgrounds? If we each could design a day to celebrate our own heritage, what would it look like? How would we recognize our origins? I am, at least partly, Swiss. What would my day of celebration be like? I did do a little research, and every year on November 1st, Christians in Switzerland honor all saints, particularly those who do not have their own special feast day. That struck me as ironically typical of our image of the Swiss people. How nice of them, honoring those who didn’t already have a special day. I imagine an All Saints Swiss celebration would be a bunch of us spending the day peacefully and politely skiing, or doing crafts like wood carving and embroidery, and eating lots of cheese, chocolate and bread. Perhaps we’d get really wild and crazy and have a Fondue Cook-Off. Not sure that kind of party attitude would get everyone clamoring to be “Swiss for a day.”
Even more to the point, how would most of us even know which heritage to celebrate? As time goes on, our melting pot mixes more and more cultures into each of us. A couple of years ago, when my son came home with a school assignment to create a poster about his ancestor’s cultures, we figured he had about six to choose from. Part of the grandeur of this country, and the people who live in it, is the variety we all represent. Yet in a way, could this mean we may lose the grasp we have on our own heritage and cultures?
There is a great Modern Family episode where Lily’s Dads take her to a Vietnamese Restaurant so she can learn about her background, because they clearly don’t know anything about it. At the same time, Gloria has a meltdown because she’s concerned her son is losing touch with his Colombian roots. It is a very funny, yet touching, message about knowing who we are and where we came from, and honoring our traditions and cultures.
One thing is for certain. Some of us may recognize our backgrounds have become a bit muddy; but there is no doubt that we all have a ferocious grip on our strength and pride in being Americans. So grab a frothy glass of green liquid and raise it high -– no matter what your origin is today, we all have something to celebrate.