The other day I was lamenting the fact that I have to work on St. Patrick’s Day even though I’m Irish. Other people couldn’t believe that I was going to work on March 17 because somehow being Irish has become such an identifying feature for me. But then I started thinking — does St. Patrick’s Day really mean more to me because I’m Irish? Does this holiday that was once a celebration of Irish-American culture really mean anything to me aside from the fact that suddenly everyone thinks it’s really cool that I’m Irish? After all, isn’t ‘Everyone Irish on St. Patrick’s Day?’
I hear people complain all the time that America takes religious or cultural holidays and injects them with consumerism. Mardi Gras is now “Pączki Day” — let’s be honest, Fat Tuesday isn’t really a better name — and St. Valentine’s Day has turned into “the day of buying chocolate and going out to dinner/staying in with a pint of ice cream.” I’m not really bothered by the fact that these holidays have come to represent American consumerism. I’ve accepted that that’s just something we do. After all, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in America started as a way to show solidarity for Ireland when it was trying to gain independence from Britain.
But now that Ireland is independent, what significance does St. Patrick’s Day hold anymore? It’s hard to say that the holiday is a celebration of Irish-American culture when Irish blood is so ubiquitous that there’s hardly a specific culture anymore. So now the holiday is an excuse for drinking. And that’s fine — but it would be nice if we could distance it a bit more from Irish culture.
Unlike all those other holidays that became excuses for consumerism, St. Patrick’s Day projects a negative stereotype. There’s this idea that ‘everybody’s Irish’ and thus celebrating like the Irish by getting drunker than all of the Real Housewives of New York combined.
To be fair, this stereotype of the Irish being heavy drinkers has a basis in reality: Drinking is socially acceptable in Irish culture. Beer was brewed in monasteries for hundreds of years — St. Patrick himself is said to have had his own brewer. I’ve come to realize that drinking is not so acceptable in other cultures, and maybe that’s where this idea of ‘everybody’s Irish’ comes in. People hide behind another culture to justify binge drinking. St. Patrick’s Day has become some sort of excuse for debauchery. That’s all right, but let’s at least recognize that this element of St. Patrick’s Day — going to the bar at 7 a.m. — is decidedly un-Irish. After all, anyone who’s truly hardcore Irish would only be getting up that early to go to church.
Someone recently asked me if my mom was going to the bar all day for St. Patrick’s Day since she’s Irish. That was a little embarrassing for me. Do people really think that all Irish people embrace such intense binge drinking? My mother may be Irish, but she’s much too old to drink for eight hours straight — and perfectly horrified at the prospect of me doing the same. This is something that college kids do, not the Irish. And this is where the stereotypes get personal: The British used the stereotype of the Irish as drunken savages to justify their colonization of Ireland.
Now, the fact that St. Patrick’s Day continues to reinforce those stereotypes that made life so much harder for my ancestors is pretty frustrating. We may use cultural holidays as an excuse for consumerism, but I can’t think of any other consumerist version of a culture that upholds a stereotype like this one. “Pączki Day” doesn’t portray Poles as fatsoes. Cinco de Mayo, now also an excuse to drink, doesn’t project the same image of alcoholism on Mexicans. To my knowledge, St. Patrick’s Day is the only holiday that embraces a derogatory stereotype.
So, yes, I’ll be drinking on St. Patrick’s Day, but I’ll be sober in time to go to work — though given my Irish pride and the stereotypes, I bet my boss will doubt my sobriety. My mother will also probably have a beer or two and most definitely will make corned beef for dinner. As an American college student, St. Patrick’s Day to me means drinking Irish beer and wearing green. As an Irish-American, St. Patrick’s Day is the one day where it’s cool to be pale and where I’m not ashamed to blast “The Rocky Road to Dublin” from my porch, car and workplace. I have no qualms with people drinking from dawn ‘til dusk, but for the love of God, do you have to deck yourselves with tacky cloverleaves and Irish flags?
Vivian Burgett is an LSA senior.