How to Celebrate a Traditional Irish St. Patrick's Day

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The following was gleaned from Irish citizens, some of whom are my relatives!


In contrast to stereotype, here's how to have a "real" Irish St Paddy's Day:

Things You'll Need

  • A willingness to think outside the box
  • Go to church.

    In Ireland, on major saints' feast days, the pubs and liquor outlets are closed, and parades are postponed - until religious observances have been completed. The first order of business on Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland, is worship. If you like, on the way to and from church, tell your kids a little Irish history, especially if your family has an Irish heritage. They might want to know who Patrick of Britain really was, and how he became the beloved Saint Patrick of Ireland.

  • Stay sober.

    At least, stay as sober as you would any other day of the year. When church is over and the parades have begun, the pubs in Ireland open their doors - but the feast day of St. Patrick is not viewed as an excuse to drink any more than one would normally drink - and for many Irish, it may be a day to abstain! Those of us living outside Ireland, who long for a taste of the old country on St Paddy's Day, may choose to have a pint of Irish beer or a shot of Irish whiskey just for fun, even if we don't usually drink - but it's just as Irish to have a slice of warm, fresh soda bread, a meal of buttered skerries and fresh herring, or even just a cup of hot tea with milk, sugar and friends.

    (A word about green beverages: This is a North American custom. No "real" Irish people would adulterate a perfectly good beer with food coloring!)

  • Go to a parade.

    Try to find a traditional Irish parade, rather than a near-riot of green-clad people pouring green beer into and all over themselves. An Irish St. Patrick's Day parade was typically a dignified march of community organizations, local amateur bands, military veterans, church groups - and, again, nobody drank any more alcohol than they would have on any other day.

  • Postpone divisive political, nationalistic and religious debates for some other day.

    Patrick was the bishop and patron of all Ireland, long before the last 500 years' religious and political divisions brought sorrow to the Irish people. St. Patrick's Day is intended to be a celebration of the spread of Christianity across Ireland; and of the subsequent preservation of Western culture in Ireland, while a particularly barbarous period of the Dark Ages consumed the rest of Europe. St. Patrick's Day is about being proud of your Irish heritage, and appreciative of Irish culture, whether you are Catholic, Protestant, non-Christian, agnostic - and regardless where you stand on relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom. If you must provoke political or sectarian arguments, or are desperate to have a fight - find some other day for it! The feast day of a saint is no time for unruly behavior.

  • On "The Wearin' of the Green"

    In Ireland, until recently, there was very little "wearin' of the green" on St. Patrick's Day. Instead, some entrepreneurial Irish called it, "The Day to Sell Something Green to an American"! Actually, the national flag of the first, united Irish kingdom, centuries ago, was a sky-blue banner with the symbol of a gold harp emblazoned on it. To this day, the harp is a symbol of the nation and culture of Ireland, without regard to religion, politics or national boundaries. Many Irish used to wear a snippet of blue (not green) ribbon in their lapel, in honor of "old Ireland".

    St. Patrick himself may have contributed to the custom of wearing something green: legend has it that the saint plucked a leaf of clover or oxalis from a pasture, to help explain the Christian concept of the Trinity to his pagan audience. Both plants, common in Ireland, have a 3-lobed leaf, and the saint used the leaf as an illustration of how something could be both Three and One. In remembrance of Patrick, some Irish took to wearing a sprig of "shamrock" leaves - in Irish: shaum rog: "bog flower" - in their lapel, on the saint's feast day. As Irish people emigrated around the world, the custom of wearing a sprig of greenery, and of remembering the vivid green countryside of their native land, led other people in the countries where they settled to associate "green" with "Irish" - and the rest is history. So... Wear whatever you want on St. Patrick's Day - but consider a slip of green (or sky-blue) ribbon, a little harp-shaped pin, or a sprig of clover - on your lapel, as a traditional Irish observance of the day.

  • Make music and dance!

    Music and dance may be somewhat restrained in Ireland, on a saint's day, but for us expatriates, nothing brings the old country home like a session of traditional Irish music, played on acoustic instruments, and sung in a credible brogue! Dance if you know how! Clap if you don't! Don't stop until you feel wonderful!

    Interesting factoid: Most traditional Irish folk music is played and sung in a minor key; even the cheerful songs are usually in minor keys. Modern research has shown that music in a minor key can actually relieve depression and improve a foul mood! (There's a reason "the blues" respond to "The Blues"!) Bless the Irish for having the good sense to recognize an economical and effective way to feel good, that is accessible to anyone who can whistle or hum a tune!

  • Celebrate St. Patrick's Day any way you choose. Please be safe, sane and sanitary, whatever you do. And consider a "keeping it real", Irish style! Cead mile beanacht!

Tips & Warnings

  • This article was provided as a courtesy by Jon Crittendon (my loving husband).

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  • Photo Credit Microsoft Clipart
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