In my home as a child, you went to bed on March 16 with some sort of green on. You didn’t want to wake up greenless. Because if found with no green on your body, you were at the mercy of mom and brothers pinching you until you had some green on!
“Wake up guys! Top o’ the mornin’ to ya” my mom would be singing. “It’s St. Patrick’s Day!”
Mom truly embraces her Irishness. She isn’t from Ireland. But her family was. They came when so many other Irish came, from the mid-1850’s through the 1920’s. Fleeing from starvation and cruel British occupiers. Ironically, her family name changed to sound more British upon arrival. Or so the story goes.
They came over from places like County Kerry or County Mayo. Places she has never been. No matter. She is Irish. She’d tell you to this day she’s Irish. But it is an Americanized Irish. Americans, I’d later learn, have a version of Irish that was romantic and heart-warming but not having very much to do with actually being from Ireland. Starvation, oppression, humiliation from occupying armies and poverty were conveniently omitted in this Hollywood version of what being Irish is.
In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a holy day and until very recently, not an excuse to party. When I was a kid, St. Paddy’s Day meant more corn beef and cabbage. It meant wearing green clothing. It meant green eggs. It meant bad Irish jokes. In other words, besides my mom’s giddiness, it really didn’t mean much. We ate corned beef all the time. God I hated corned beef.
Today, along with Valentine’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is basically the month of March’s day for Americans to drink and eat too much and go shopping for items on sale.
As a young adult, I read “Trinity” by Leon Uris. It was eye-opening. The history of this island was not as I had assumed growing up with the American version of being Irish in the late 1970’s. Later, I fell in love with U2, Van Morrison, Roddy Doyle, and other Irish artists who did not share this rose-colored view of Irishness.
Theirs was an Ireland taken captive by the King of England. A people who faced wars, starvation, poverty, and who were controlled in despicable ways by the King or by the Catholic Church.
Americans like to think of Ireland as they see it in the movie “Quiet Man” with John Wayne. Or when they think of fairies or leprechauns. Lots of green shamrocks, lots of Guinness. They tend not to think on or even be aware of the fact that this nation has been troubled for some 400 years by civil wars, starvation and oppression.
Today, I take time on St. Patrick’s Day to think about my heritage. I might have a Guinness tonight. And I’m wearing my Ireland rugby jersey today. But you won’t see me dressed like a green clown or passed out at the bar later. I’m certain I’ll not be eating corned beef. By the way, the Irish in Ireland don’t eat corned beef either.
It is a day to dwell on the immigrants who left a sad Ireland to find a better life. My great-grandparents came here and found they had to battle racism, hatred and stereotypes. And, after two or three generations, collectively, the Irish became Americans. That indicates a strong, courageous and clever people. I’m proud of that.
But on this day, what I find I love most about my Irish heritage is how well we roll with the insults and jokes about our tendencies to enjoy a few drinks and perhaps a good, physical argument. Perhaps there is some truth in these stereotypes. The Irish do indeed enjoy Guinness and whiskey (don’t forget the ‘e’ in whiskey!) as much as they do water.
Some jokes are funny. Most jokes about drinking, stupidity or fighting, are not. They are just lame. But the only thing about St. Patrick's Day or Irish jokes that gets me slightly tweaked is if someone spells Paddy as Patty. Don’t know why, but that bugs me.
I find it fascinating how many Americans love these jokes and tell them freely. Send them around the internet. Imagine slipping ANY other race/religion/nationality into all the different jokes you'll see about the Irish in this week.
I saw one where a bunch of folks dressed in green are passed out drunk over a bunch of exercise balls. Words on the meme say “Irish Yoga!” Hilarious? Sort of lame. But offensive? I didn’t take any offense.
Can you imagine everyone passing around a photo of a drunk Jesus around Christmas? An image of him passed out on the cross with the words “New Christian Cross Fit?” Can you imagine the uproar?
There are countless examples of jokes that, if you unplugged the word Irish and plugged in any other race, creed, gender or religion, you’d have the political correctness police on your door step immediately!
The Irish don’t get mad or upset. They don’t go on Rachel Maddow and scream for justice and reparations. We just laugh and move on. I love that!
The Irish show us all how to lighten up. How to get past difficult times gracefully. How not to take life too seriously. For they know better than most how fleeting and short life can be. The Irish are a good example of being able to laugh and get along. I wish more cultures could take on that trait.
Have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!