By Nicaela Giglia, Layout Editor
March 17 is fast approaching and, of course, that means the widely recognized St. Patrick’s Day. This Irish holiday has gained popularity across the world, but especially in the United States where everyone “becomes Irish for a day” and uses it as an excuse to wear green and drink Guinness and/or whiskey. This is supported by the fact that globally the consumption of Guinness jumps 7.5 million pints to total 13 million on St. Patrick’s Day. If you don’t like these traditional Irish beverages then any alcoholic drink will do. I won’t go into the details about how this is probably increasing the stereotype of the Irish as alcoholics or the fact that we, as a nation, have appropriated another holiday for consumer gain. In considering it in a brighter light, the United States is a nation built on immigrants and (we hope) a place where freedom of expression is valued. In appropriating this holiday, it is just a way that we have accepted another culture into our own and use it as an excuse to celebrate the Irish for a day.
In considering the deeper historical significance of March 17, St. Patrick is considered to be the patron saint of Ireland and is thought to have brought Christianity to the Irish people. He wasn’t a native Irishman though, but was actually a slave who was brought to Ireland at the age of 16. The ties between the United States and St. Patrick’s Day actually have a deeper connection because the first parade to celebrate the day occurred in 1762 in New York City. The Irish soldiers serving in the English army were those involved with the parade and used it as a way to celebrate their patron saint. It is interesting to note that due to the holiday’s religious aspects the pubs were closed in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day until the 1970s (which is of course is the exact opposite of the way we celebrate the holiday today). Also, traditionally St. Patrick’s Day is thought to synonymous with the color green, but in fact the color blue was linked with the country itself and the saint that is celebrated there.
Even though today’s St. Patrick’s Day may support a stereotype of leprechauns and whiskey drinkers, the Irish managed to discredit the stereotypes that they faced in the 1800s. At that time when Irish Americans went out to celebrate on March 17, they were stereotyped as “drunk, violent monkeys” in many cartoons. During the potato famine in 1845 in Ireland, there was a large influx of Irish immigrants into the U.S. With the increase in immigrant numbers, the Irish realized their political power and created their own political group called the “green machine,” which became an important swing vote for many politicians. In this way, St. Patrick’s Day became not only a way to celebrate the Irish heritage, but a way to prove their inclusion as a part of the United States democratic system.
Maybe this brief history lesson will allow you to think a little deeper about the holiday that was founded on more than just Guinness and Jameson. Sláinte! (Irish toast meaning “health”)
Historical facts and statistics from: www.irishfireside.com and http://www.history.com.