Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!
I know St. Patrick’s Day has become one big drink fest, and I’m not particularly opposed to this. I find any reason for people to get together and dance, talk, enjoy each other’s company a good reason. We could all use a little more joy and camaraderie in our lives.
Growing up in a primarily Irish and German household we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day the way many Irish-Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day: with corned beef and cabbage. I have always leaned towards the side of not liking meat and so I usually indulged in the cabbage and mustard. I have to say; I do miss the smell of my mother’s kitchen as she simmered corned beef and cabbage for hours before dinner. Even when I did not like the corned beef, I still liked the smell filling our home. It felt as if tradition and ancestry was filling up our tiny kitchen. After all, St. Patrick’s Day was the most Irish my family ever became.
As a kid, I was obsessed with leprechauns. I believed the ploys our teachers played at school. They would hide things around our classrooms and leave clues that leprechauns had been there. After watching Harriet the Spy one night I decided to put together a leprechaun hunting kit. It mainly consisted of a belt, a fanny pack, and string, scissors, a magnifying glass and some paper and pencil. My best friend down the street joined in on the game. We were convinced we could find a leprechaun. We didn’t even care much for the gold. Just the feat of knowing a mythical creature existed would have been enough for us. When March was over and we still had not captured a leprechaun, we went back to hunting ghosts.
I’ve always been jealous of people who have found a four-leaf clover. The same year as the leprechaun haunt, a friend from our school brought her mother’s pressed four leaf clovers. She had three or four of them. I thought, “How unfair, I haven’t even found one.”
Growing up, our backyard was covered in clovers. (It’s a weed if you didn’t know.) I used to lie in the backyard on my stomach and search through clover after clover looking for a lucky one. Hours would be spent this way. I still have not found a four-leaf clover, but I admit that when I’m lying in the grass and spot a patch I usually search through the tufts.
Lately, as an adult, I’ve become more interested in my heritage. I’ve been trying to find German, Irish and Swedish traditions to pass down to my future children. The older I get, the more I realize my ancestry is more engrained into my family’s habits than I thought and mostly it is has been enriched through food: Sauerkraut, kolaczkis, corned beef and cabbage, brats, and spatzle among others.
As part of this endeavor, I recently researched the history of St. Patrick’s Day and found a few surprising things from this article.
Here’s a short run-down:
St. Patrick was born in what would now be considered England and was actually held captive in Ireland for six years after Irish raiders who ransacked his home enslaved him at age 16. He later returned to England for religious instruction and then returned to Ireland for missionary work where he brought Christianity to Ireland.
Thus, making sense that he would be associated as an Irish Saint.
Also, there is no historical account of St. Patrick banishing snakes from Ireland. In fact, it is believed that Ireland’s climate is actually too cold for snakes. So there goes the story teachers tell kids in school to wrap up St. Patrick’s Day into a nice, neat package.
Here was the most surprising fact: the color most associated with St. Patrick was actually blue. They called it St. Patrick’s Blue and it was the color the knights in the Order of St. Patrick wore.
Did you hear that right? Not GREEN. Weird.
So where did the green come from? It was used in the 18th century when Ireland was seeking independence.
And our beloved corned beef? This tradition actually began with Irish immigrants in New York City when they substituted a type of bacon, similar to ham (what we call Canadian Bacon perhaps?) for the cheaper corned beef substitute from their Jewish neighbors.
Well, all right then.
While these new facts are probably surprising, I find that they better illuminate the Irish heritage, and expand upon the Irish-American heritage. I think it would be foolish for us to not recognize that traditions change over time, especially when immigration plays a large role. So this St. Patrick’s Day, let’s celebrate our Irish-American ways and think of our ancestors who fought, sweat, felt prejudiced against, and worked mightily hard to build a place for each of our families to belong to today. (And try to find some Irish Whiskey instead of bourbon to celebrate. See also: Jameson, Michael Collins, Bushmills or Redbreast. After all, whiskey means “water of life.” )