I find it intriguing that most Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with as much fervor, green beer and parade floats as possible without recognizing that they’re actually celebrating on the feast day of a Catholic saint. St. Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland and has a captivating story for those who care to learn it. I am an Irish history and culture aficionado, so there’s no condemnation from this front about joyously celebrating my favorite holiday no matter the motivation, but I often chuckle to myself on March 17 and wonder how many people actually know the history of the practices and connotations of the holiday.
Personally, I make a point to wear orange as well as green on St. Patrick’s Day, because I am a Protestant Christian. Orange connotes Protestantism while the green that the majority of Americans wear on the holiday connotes Catholicism. These connotations seem to have originated with William of Orange conquering Ireland; the orange represented his followers while the green represented the Gaelic people of Ireland who didn’t necessarily want to live under British rule. Thus, the Irish flag came into being with the hopeful white section in the center. These original color meanings morphed from just political indicators into the not only political, but also religiously-motivated symbolism of The Troubles and today.
Though I love Irish history and respect the Republic’s history and predominantly Catholic background, I like to wear a little orange to pay tribute to my own beliefs, too. Traditionally, these two groups have not gotten along (to say the least) in Ireland though and have become the polarized, emblematic figureheads of the territorial dispute over Northern Ireland (which is now part of the United Kingdom). For me, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day remains a part of the respect for and fascination that I have with all things Irish – a love that originated in a high school history class. And if I’m honest, it’s also a solid excuse for me to dress up as ridiculously as I want in what happen to be my two favorite colors!
This year, I have noticed that beyond the historic political and religious issues at hand in connection with St. Patrick’s Day, there is something else to discuss. The mayors of at least two major American cities have refused to participate in their cities’ celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day, because of LGBT discrimination. My thoughts are still congealing on the issue, but my first reaction is one of sadness. At heart, I am a sympathetic and non-confrontational creature who just wants everyone to get along especially on such a fun holiday.
What about you? How do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Or do you not celebrate it at all? How does your faith play into that choice? What do you think of the Boston and New York City majors’ decisions this year?
Is it disrespectful of Americans to celebrate the holiday in total ignorance of who St. Patrick was and what the green and orange represent to the Irish people? Or is what most Americans do on March 17 harmless fun?
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