Many people believe that contemporary St. Patrick’s Day celebrations came from Irish traditions. However, the St. Patrick’s Day festivities we are familiar with actually originated in the United States. In the 1800s, thousands of Irish immigrants came to the US to start a new life. Many American communities found it challenging to accept these overwhelming numbers. As a result, St. Patrick’s Day soon became a special day for Irish Americans to gather together and celebrate their heritage, lifestyle, and traditions.
Today, it’s important to recognize the culture behind the commercialism of St. Patrick’s Day, and its importance in Irish history. Here are some tips to celebrate both respectfully and considerately.
- Think Carefully About Your Apparel
Purchasing special St. Patrick’s Day apparel has become increasingly popular, but can also be problematic. Many retailers produce t-shirts that some Irish Americans find questionable due to the negative stereotypes and unhealthy behaviors they project. Irish American writer Chrissa Hardy from Bustle says:
“Don’t get me wrong — I love this holiday. I love celebrating my Irish roots…I love the music. I love shamrocks, and the color green looks good on everyone. I don’t, however, love the need to pretend like it’s totally cool to encourage catcalling, the guys who think it’s funny to say, “Kiss me, I’m Irish”, or the t-shirt companies that won’t let the least awesome part of this holiday die [the excessive drinking] …can’t we do better than this? Doesn’t this historic cultural day deserve more?”
When considering what to wear for St. Patrick’s Day, try avoiding shirts that promote drinking or lewd behavior. Instead, an Irish sweater or a shirt that positively represents Irish American culture (such as “Irish Pride” or a shamrock clover), will do the job!
2. Learn About Irish and/or Irish-American History
Learning about other countries’ histories is helpful to better understand different cultures and their pasts. For instance, this year marks Ireland’s 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916.
On Monday, April 24, 1916, thousands of Irish people took over strategic locations in Dublin in the name of a free Irish Republic. The British had occupied Ireland since medieval times, and military action was deemed necessary after several separation attempts. From the General Post Office of Dublin, activist P.H. Pearse read the Proclamation of the Republic, declaring independence from Britain:
“IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom…We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people.”
The results were chaotic and tragic. In the days of violence that ensued, much of Dublin was destroyed and many people lost their lives or were arrested. Despite the tragic outcome, this uprising remains an important part of Irish history.
3. Support Your Local Irish American Communities
Believe it or not, there are many Irish-American communities in the United States. Though some celebrate solely on St. Patrick’s Day, others celebrate year-round. A symbol that has become incredibly popular within these communities are Claddagh rings. The meaning of the ring originates from a story of a young Irish sailor and his lost love. The ring’s symbol is a crowned heart cradled by two hands, signifying love, loyalty, and friendship. The ring’s placement can also change based on the wearer’s relationship status. Singles can wear the heart facing outward (indicating that their heart is available to give), while those in relationships can wear it inward.
This St. Patrick’s Day, you can learn more about these and other traditions by supporting your local Irish-American communities. Check your area for cultural centers, festivals, recitals, shops, restaurants, and museums for special events.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
- Chrissa Hardy, “7 Offensive St. Patrick’s Day Shirts That Shouldn’t Exist But Do, Much to Everyone’s Dismay,” Bustle, 16 March 2015, http://www.bustle.com/articles/67221-7-offensive-st-patricks-day-shirts-that-shouldnt-exist-but-do-much-to-everyones-dismay.
- “Proclamation,” accessed 29 February 2016, http://www.easter1916.net/proclamation.htm.
- “Story of Irish Jewellry: The Claddagh,” accessed 3 March 2016, http://www.solvar.ie/pages/ story-of-irish-jewellery/.
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- Hardy, Chrissa. “7 Offensive St. Patrick’s Day Shirts That Shouldn’t Exist But Do, Much to Everyone’s Dismay.” Bustle. 16 March 2015. http://www.bustle.com/articles/67221-7-offensive-st-patricks-day-shirts-that-shouldnt-exist-but-do-much-to-everyones-dismay
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- Kearns, David. “Irish man uses return policy to fight offensive St Patrick’s Day clothing.” Independent, 26 February 2015. http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/irish-abroad/irish-man-uses-return-policy-to-fight-offensive-st-patricks-day-clothing-31025380.html
- Kennedy, Elizabeth. “Are you celebrating St. Patrick’s Day the American way or the Irish way?” Washington Times, 15 March 2015. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/mar/15/st-patricks-day-in-ireland-has-differences-from-am/?page=all
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- Maher, David. “15 facts you need to know about the Irish flag.” Irish Mirror, 20 October 2015. http://www.irishmirror.ie/news/irish-news/15-facts-you-need-know-6666611
- McDonald, Henry. “Ireland prepares to mark Easter Rising centenary amid fears old tensions may resurface.” The Guardian, 2 January 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/ jan/03/easter-rising-1916-centernary-peace-process
- McKinney, Luke. “8 Insulting Ways People Act ‘Irish’ on St. Patrick’s Day.” Cracked.com, 13 March 2012. http://www.cracked.com/blog/8-insulting-ways-people-act-irish-st.-patricks-day
- Moody, T.W. and F.X. Martin. The Course of Irish History Fourth Edition. Lanham, MD: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 2001.
- O’Connor, Dr. Garrett. “Breaking the Code of Silence: The Irish and Drink.” Irish America, February/March 2012. http://irishamerica.com/2012/01/breaking-the-code-of-silence-the-irish-and-drink/
- Solvar. “Story of Irish Jewellry: The Claddagh.” Accessed 3 March 2016. http://www.solvar.ie/pages/story-of-irish-jewellery/