Why Do We Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

March 17, 2012 by staff 

Why Do We Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?, Green beer is probably innocuous. A good thing, too, since celebrants who wouldn’t know St. Patrick from St. Patermuthius will be downing barrels of the stuff Saturday. They’ll also be wearing green hats and shamrock-shaped pins instructing “Kiss Me, I’m Irish,” and burbling faux-Irishisms like “Faith ‘n begorra” in winceworthy accents.

Crammed into drinking establishments from Ottawa to Omaha, such partiers observe March 17 in a pancontinental frenzy as a jolly green excuse to tie one on. That’s one class of Paddy’s Day celebrants – harmless enough, except to themselves, as they discover the morning after. Others, steeped in authenticity, sing traditional songs (i.e. not from Tin Pan Alley or 19th-century London), raise expertly poured pints of Guinness, yearn for the Old Country and lard their conversation with phrases from the Old Language. Beannachta? na FĂ©ile Padraig!

They don’t need to wear tags advertising their Irishness, because in their hearts, that’s what they are. Pure Irish. Even if they were born in Canada, like their parents and grandparents before them. Or even if they left the Ould Sod decades ago to make their lives here and become Canadian citizens. Irish with a pesky maple-leaf asterisk.

The third class of St. Patrick’s Day celebrants are those of us who are not Irish at all, even if we have Irish roots. Sure, my grandfather may have come from County Laois, and earlier antecedents from up and down the Irish west coast early in the 19th century. But me? Pure unhyphenated Canadian.

(One reason I hate hyphenation in national labels, apart from the fact that it dilutes identity and diminishes citizenship, is that it’s just so darned awkward. If I chose hyphenation, for example, I’d have to call myself an IrishScottish French-with-smidgens-of-English and-Channel-Islands-Canadian. So “Canadian” it is.)

And as unhyphenated citizens with Irish roots, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day a little differently. We acknowledge our heritage, of course, and we appreciate the tiny island’s contributions to civilization, from mystic monks to centuries’ worth of literary, musical and political icons. Some of us believe a splash of Guinness or drop of Jameson’s is not misplaced.

But mostly, we don’t look across the sea. Mostly, we focus our Irish celebration on Canada.

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