I’ve always been fascinated with St. Patrick’s Day, and there is no question that my fascination comes from the fascination others have for it.
Being of Irish descent used to make me feel like the holiday belonged to me more than others. In Ireland, it has been a religious holiday for more than a thousand years. In America, it’s a party. Now, I may be Irish American, but I’m not religious. And if given the choice of Christianity or a party that features beer, whiskey, dressing funny and bag pipes, at this point in my life, I choose church.
When reading the History Channel’s brief chronology of the March 17th holiday, it jumps out at you: Irish immigrants weren’t always who most Americans wanted to pretend to be on that day or any other. The group’s presence is so prominent in our culture now, every day could be St. Patrick’s Day, I mean, without the parades of course.
Parades seem to be a vital part of moving groups of Americans into the mainstream. Indy Pride is the best parade of the year in Indianapolis. I imagine that is the case in many cities. It is the second Saturday in June each year. In 2023, that is June 10, so write it down. The following weekend is the city’s Juneteenth Festival. For anyone who doesn’t think these events are important, St. Patrick’s Day events are good examples of why they absolutely are.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in America was held in what is now St. Augustine, Florida in 1601, but the parade history of the holiday is complicated. There were other notable ones, like the one in New York in 1772. It was put on by homesick Irish soldiers serving in the English military. New York’s numerous Irish societies united in 1848 to have one consolidated parade that is now the world’s oldest civilian parade and is the largest one celebrating the holiday in the nation. Other big ones in Boston and Chicago are also entrenched events.
Cinco de Mayo has plenty in common with St. Patrick’s Day. First, in America, it is largely a drinking holiday that also generally celebrates Mexican culture, kind of the way March 17 is for the Irish. It is also a larger celebration here than it is in Mexico. Ask an American what the holiday specifically celebrates, and most will say “Mexican Independence.” Uh, no, that is incorrect. It celebrates the Mexican victory in the Battle of Puebla over France.
That error doesn’t matter much to me though. I am happy that we celebrate Mexican culture. We should celebrate it. We should also use some of that energy learning about it too.
Our movies of late are additional and fantastic opportunities to embrace these cultures and their histories. 2018’s “Roma” was a beautifully filmed, black and white picture, based in Mexico City, that tells a story with The Corpus Christi Massacre of 1971 serving as the backdrop. This year’s “The Banshees of Inisherin” is a complicated, fictional story on a fictional island with the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923 creating the important setting across the bay. It too was beautifully filmed and looked as Irish as anything I’ve seen. Yes, I have been to Ireland.
2021’s “Belfast” is a family story located in the Northern Ireland city as the Troubles broke out. My advice to all the green beer drinkers of last week is to watch this film. The reason to watch it now is that next month will be the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the settlement that officially ended the Troubles.
All of these films won Academy Awards. All of them connect us to cultures that matter to us here and now. I love that they are being made to great American acclaim.
St. Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to the Irish people. Regardless of anyone’s religious beliefs, still celebrating that legacy, nearly 1600 years later is worthy of admiration.
As I have gotten older, St. Patrick’s Day is what I associate with the beginning of spring. It’s time to fertilize, mulch and plant flowers. It’s time to dust off the golf clubs. It’s time to dream about baseball. And it is good to be able to celebrate a specific person at the start of the most optimistic season of the year.
I don’t go to the parades or the parties, but I think about them plenty every year. I’m glad others are celebrating the best way they know how.
It is important to acknowledge that we are celebrating the other on St. Patrick’s Day every year. This example of American acceptance is what I love about it most.