It’s hard for people to tell that I’m Irish. I mean my fair (pale as f**k) complexion or my red curls or the thousands to freckles that adorn my every inch of my skin. The fact that I avoid the sun and can’t tan but burn too easily probably isn’t a giveaway either. And I know my stubbornness, temper, strong convictions and my tendency to speak out against things that go against them, not to mention using wit as a defense mechanism don’t help my case. Oh, and I’m a writer, because everyone knows that there are few revered Irish writers… But then there is also my name. Every single name (first, middle, etc.) is a common Irish name (not exclusively but still) and my last name… well it dates back to the early Middle Ages (as early as 400 A.D.), ruling over a county in Southern Ireland for generations. I don’t expect people to know that, but it sounds Irish like Callahan does. You just know it’s an Irish name.
So, St. Patrick’s Day is supposed to be, like, my day – right? Irish pride and all that… Well it is and it isn’t. On the one hand, I love that there is a day to celebrate the Irish and Ireland. On the other, I kind of feel like the way it is traditionally celebrated in the states (though to be fair, it is this way pretty much everywhere else or so I hear, even Ireland) has nothing to do with the actual holiday, and makes people kind of miss the point. For me, a very proud Irishman, I kind of look at St. Patrick’s Day as this thing I’d just like to skip over. It’s become bastardized beyond belief, and while it is entirely fixable, I think I’m in the minority of people who actually want to “fix” it.
When I think of St. Patrick’s Day this is what I see: A day to celebrate all things Irish. Irish people, culture, history, Ireland itself, and of course St. Patrick, who became known as the patron of Ireland. Maybe I’m a nerd, but I’d like to read books, watch TV specials or go to events teaching and sharing things relevant to what I just mentioned. Promotional, educational, engaging, celebratory. I am proud of my heritage and I see this day as an opportunity for people to celebrate and explore their own heritage or learn about Ireland’s fascinating history and people. I feel like this is what it should be, and in a perfect world (at least according to me) it would be.
But what St. Patrick’s Day actually is, as in how it is celebrated now, is an excuse to party hard, wear green and promote negative Irish stereotypes. I hate that the first thing most people think about when they think about St. Patrick’s Day is public drunkenness. I hate that leprechauns are a close second. I have nothing against leprechauns mind you (but I also feel the need to point out that modern depictions of leprechauns are actually based on derogatory caricatures and stereotypes of the Irish from the 19th century), but I just don’t like to see grown men dressed up as them, acting a fool because, “It’s St. Patrick’s Day!” Ugh.
Growing up, I didn’t even acknowledge St. Patrick’s Day. My parents and their generation really weren’t interested in their roots. My grandparents, particularly my dad’s mom, and I would talk about Ireland and all things Irish all of the time, not just on this particular day. I always thought I would go there someday with her before she passed way before her time, but I digress. She went every year. It was her homeland just as it was my grandfather’s. Ireland was home. I still dream of going there. I don’t want to pretend to understand religious pilgrimages, but for me it has been calling to me since I was a child. For a place I have never been to, I feel like it’s a part of me, and until I go there, I will be incomplete…
Anyway, back to St. Patrick’s Day, I just don’t like how it has become this uber-commercialized holiday to the point of being tacky and embarrassing. At least how I see it being celebrated. My typical St. Patrick’s Day activities involve no going out because I swear if one person tries to kiss or pinch me (like wearing green stops some people) because I’m Irish I’ll either knee them in the jewels or mace them, depending on how charitable I’m feeling. Seriously, personal space, people. And I don’t like my friends or loved ones going out (though I don’t try to stop them because I don’t have control issues, though I stress for them to be careful because of other people) because I’m afraid with all the partying and drinking, there will be a lot more drunk drivers on the road. My husband isn’t even allowed to get gas until the following morning.
But I know that I’m just seen as a downer or party pooper or whatever. Killjoy is definitely a name that comes to mind. Too serious or too intense is how others who want to spare my feelings may put it. Being the firstborn child (and grandchild for that matter, so you know I have dozens of younger cousins and being an Irish family, we were all close growing up, they’re like siblings in a way) maybe I inherited the pride and uptight genes for my entire generation. My cousins and brothers are the first wearing green (and those ridiculous leprechaun hats!) and going out to bars, drinking and partying and just carrying on. They’re good people, family, and they don’t drink and drive or start brawls, but I just kind of see it as feeding this machine that a holiday that is close to my heart has been manipulated by and turned into something else.
I hope to have a large family one day (my husband isn’t Irish and wants three kids, I want a soccer team, but then again I have four younger siblings and my family is considered “small” compared to my aunts and uncles and their kids) and of course I think about how I’ll celebrate this day with them. Because we will celebrate but instead of pictures of leprechauns and stressing the importance of wearing green so they won’t get pinched, I want to help them celebrate their history and where they came from. (Okay, I can’t have kids, so they’ll technically be my husband’s biologically or adopted, but they’ll still be mine, which means they’ll still be Irish, dammit.)
Hopefully by then I will have actually traveled to Ireland. It’s a dream to find family that still lives there. I will share stories with them about my travels, our family, and the history and folklore surrounding Ireland.
But for now, I just go over all of this in my head. I think of my late grandmother and her stories (she went back to Ireland yearly, and was going to go back right before she fell ill and passed soon after). I think about what I already know (which is more than the average person, but not as much as I would like to, I wish there was an Irish History course I could have taken in college) and what I would like to learn still. For me, St. Patrick’s Day is still special. I don’t go out and celebrate it with everyone else, but it is a day to not only remember where I came from, but reflect on what that means. Ireland is always in my heart in a way, it’s a piece of me I have yet to fully own and explore, but on St. Patrick’s Day it takes center stage in my heart and occupies my thoughts even more than usual.
Because being Irish is a part of my foundation, my beginning, a connection bigger than me. And I wear that piece of myself, my identity with pride. BEAMING PRIDE!