“Plant your peas on St. Patrick’s Day!” It’s what the grandmas said. The leprechaun stands near the garden fence.
“There’s snow on the ground,” I tell him.
“A wee pint or two’ll cure it. You won’t feel a thing.”
“Don’t you have a parade to ruin or drunks to torment?” I ask. I’ve done nothing for St. Patrick’s Day. Not a shamrock, not a green food, yet the “holiday” befalls us tomorrow. The leprechaun turned cereal green and played tricked on us as kids. After college, I asked him to reduce my student loans with his pot of gold. He didn’t. That, I think, is when our relationship deteriorated.
St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday of America. We made it outrageous, turned everything green. That’s what Americans do to holidays. We make them bigger, better, badder, and all about the green–holidays rake in cash. We’re so good at supersizing holidays my Jewish friends have Christmas trees. St. Patrick is the patron saint of marketing.
I used to think green represented the Emerald Isle or spring, but now I know it’s the color of parade goers’ faces after the celebration’s continued too long.
It’s interesting–the holiday sprung up around the guy who brought the relics of Roman empire to Ireland. For those who think St. Patrick is the patron saint of beer, he’s not. He was born in Britain during turbulent times–the fall of Rome. The emperor ordered all available soldiers back to save Rome itself, leaving Patrick’s area unprotected. Patrick was kidnapped, sold into slavery in Ireland, and after several years tending sheep, escaped, fleeing on a pirate ship.
He converted and was ordained a Catholic priest, becoming the Roman Catholic missionary to Ireland. He knew the Irish language and culture, and was a man of great faith. It was he who used the three leaves of the shamrock, describing his thoughts about God to the Irish. They had traditional religions. Little did he know a thousand years later, the people with whom he’d discussed a loving God would use religion as an excuse to draw battle lines lasting hundreds of years.
There is no historical record stating whether Patrick could cook a mean corned beef and cabbage, organize a parade, dye a river green, or conjure up a pint due to the grace of the Almighty. These may have been among the miracles that led to his canonization, but we cannot be sure.
Maybe he would have been better suited to healing the half-millennium of religious strife in Ireland and the New World. The first wave of Irish-Americans, the Scotts Irish, were among the Founding Fathers and architects of America while the second wave, the Famine Irish, were greeted with signs that said “NINA” or “No Irish Need Apply.” It was a shame they couldn’t work together outside of Tammany Hall.
I’m big now. I study such things. As a child of Irish Catholic descent, Irish music was a big part of culture–I still love that music. The difference is now I understand it.
One day, it hit me. It was Republican music. Not “fiscally-conservative-FOX-News American-Republican.” Irish “Republican.” Revolutionary. Irish Civil War. Bobby Sands. Hunger strikes. Expelling British from Northern Ireland. Sending money via the Irish Sweepstakes. Pubs in the North End of Boston. Singing Danny Boy, The Foggy Dew, and The Fields of Athenry. “Republican.” It’s a very political Catholic word. The political Protestant would say something entirely different. “Terrorist.” And both sides, who’d suffered, would be right. These lines run deep. I recall my friend who was ousted from her family for her “mixed marriage.” She was a Catholic who married a Protestant.
Even on this side of the pond, I grew up to news stories of car bombs, “green” parades, “orange” parades…each of these meant someone’s dad didn’t come home that night. Or ever.
It’s taken generations of good people to work on burying the hatchet somewhere other than in each other.
When the Irish came to America, they needed to remember their home. Emigration was traumatic, not by choice, as people starved or escaped political turmoil. Families held parties they called “wakes” for the departing. Once a foot was on the steamship, it became a ghost of Ireland, never to return. There was a point in Irish history where more Irish had emigrated to America than were left in the old country.
These Irish needed a holiday, a homeland, a community. They built it around their churches, their political machines, the beat cops on the neighborhood blocks, and eventually, around a larger-than-life St. Patrick’s Day filled with green and parades.
“When’s the leprechaun coming?” Declan asked. He is one-eighth Irish, four generations removed.
“Tomorrow.” I say.
“Will he play tricks on me?” he asks.
“Maybe.” Looks like there’ll be shamrocks and gold coins after all. His world is a world where green and orange are the colors of spring. I hope it’ll stay that way and he won’t judge people based on race, religion, orientation, or ideology, even though the world doesn’t let go.
I open the decoration bin. I put up the first shamrock. And I break out the Irish music. Even if it’s only for a couple days.