Or Saint Patrick’s Day! St. Patrick’s day is a big deal in the United States a holiday during the month of March which is just after the February national days of celebration (the American Football Fest or Super Bowl and Valentine’s day which is just for sweethearts) and just before Easter. It’s an excuse to drink and be merry (as if people needed an excuse!!) and to dress up in Irish costumes. As many of you know, Saint Patrick’s is one of the only “ethnic” holidays observed in the US paying tribute to the large Irish diaspora and the huge Irish population in North America (the Canadians take Saint Patrick’s day very seriously). Saint Patrick is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland having been credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. Even though it has religious roots, it has become a secular holiday set aside to celebrate Irish culture and the important influence it has had in Anglosaxon culture.
So how do Americans celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day? By wearing green, indulging in eating and drinking (a temporary lifting of Lent traditions of fasting before Easter probably why Saint Patrick is such a popular saint’s day) and singing, putting on parades and processions (the New York Saint Patrick’s Day parade is probably the most popular one organized in the States and after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade) and displaying the symbols of Irish culture (in Chicago they really get into the holiday by putting green dye in the river…fortunately non-toxic to humans and fish!):
The Shamrock (the “Seamroy” in Celtic): a sacred plant in ancient Ireland because it symbolized the coming of Spring. During the Irish famines and struggles against English rule which forbade the use of the Irish language and all Irish cultural manifestations (books, songs, poems, etc. which in their view could excite the masses) and the practice of Catholicism, it took on a more powerful political meaning of Irish nationalism and pride in Irish heritage.
The Snake: the legend goes that St. Patrick once stood on a small mountain (Croagh Patrick) and with stroke of his cane banished all the snakes from Ireland a metaphor for the eradication of pagan ideology from Ireland and the triumph of Christianity. 200 years after the Irish population was Christianized and his wish came true.
Corned Beef and Cabbage: a traditional Irish-America dish (the Irish ate bacon instead of Corned Beef) coming from the Irish boroughs of New York who adopted corned beef (a cheaper form of beef) from their Jewish neighbors.
The Leprechaun (“lobaircin” in Celtic meaning small-bodied fellow): a figure from Irish folklore and the belief in fairies, tiny men and women who had magical powers which could be used to serve good and sometimes evil. Leprechauns were known for playing tricks on people which they often used to protect their much-fabled treasure (usually hidden in tree trunks). Walt Disney transformed this figure of Irish folklore into a symbol of Ireland with its film Darby O’Gill and the Little People (released in 1959). Disney’s Leprechaun was cheerful and friendly and was quickly adopted as the embodiment of the merry Irishman.
Danny Boy: Irish music and folk songs are an important part of Saint Patrick’s day celebrations (as with many holidays) and the song Danny Boy is considered to be an unofficial signature song and anthem of Irish culture. It was written at the beginning of the 20th century to the air of Londonderry Air (Ernestine Schumann-Heink made the first recording in 1915). It quickly became one of the most popular songs in the new century. The American singer “Eva Cassidy” (who had Irish roots) gave new life to this song which is an enduring ballad about separation (Irish immigration) and sorrow, love and loss. Her talent was discovered posthumously when a BBC radio disc jockey “discovered” her, played one of her tunes from her ‘Songbird’ album on BBC radio and made her an overnight success (the album has sold over 10 million copies in Britain):
Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling. From glen to glen and down the mountain side. The summer’s gone, and all the flowers dying. ‘Tis you, ’tis you must go, and I must bide. But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow,
or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow. ‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow. Oh Danny Boy, oh Danny Boy, I love you so.
But when ye come and all the roses falling, and I am dead, as dead I well may be, Go out and find the place where I am lying, And kneel and say an Ave there for me. And I will hear tho’ soft your tread above me, and then my grave will warm and sweeter be.
For you shall bend and tell me that you love me, And I will sleep in peace until you come to me.