Today is Saint Patrick's day and this means that I once again reluctantly picked out a green shirt , along with some Celtic-themed jewelry to wear. It's not that I have anything against green (in fact even if I forgot that it was Saint Patrick's Day, the odds are pretty good that I would be wearing a green shirt anyways) or that I'm tired of my Irish silver jewelry (although as most of it came from my ex-boyfriend I have been uninterested in wearing it lately.) It's just that Saint Patrick's day is Amateur Day and that bothers me.
When I was a sophomore or a junior in high school I came home from school one Saint Patrick's Day and declared to my mother that I had had enough of celebrating a holiday that seemed to have more to do with with selling beer than with being Irish. Mom ripped me a new one. What would my grandfather say if he could hear me, she asked. She said that she wore green on Saint Patty's day (and that I should to) because it was not too terribly long ago that there were signs up that said "Irish need not apply."She said I should do it out of pride and out of respect for the first several waves of immigrants who got to experience good old fashioned American racism. I don't remember what else she said, but it was enough to cut through my teenage arrogance and convince me to wear green on Saint Patrick's day. Hey, it's not as if I dislike green or don't have enough green clothing.
But over the past few years I've started to feel less enthusiastic about the whole thing. My friends and I had started to refer to Saint Patrick's day as "Amateur Night" because we are old enough to be cranky about the way that our favorite bars would fill up on March 17th and it would not be fun to go out. And I work with people who celebrate Saint Patrick's day as if it was Valentine's Day--except they cook green cookies and wear green instead of baking red cookies and wearing red things. Lately I've been feeling more and more ambivalent about wearing green on Saint Patrick's Day because I'm afraid of being mistaken for one of them.
It's not that I have anything against green cookies, and holidays that celebrate beer are okay by me too. It's just that I grew up seeing Saint Patrick's day as a political holiday-I felt morally obligated to wear green to honor those that had come before--so watching my office mates and the kids in the bars celebrate it as if it was International Talk Like a Pirate Day (with beer) leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
But it also makes me think a bit. Am I proud of my Irish heritage? Not really. I'm not ashamed of it, but it's not like it's something I've earned. It's just there. I like the Clancy Brothers and the Wolfe Tones and the Pogues and I'm fond of green, Guinness, potatoes and my Irish silver collection, but I don't necessarily think that these things are the result of my genetics.
I grew up in New York City-there certainly were plenty of descendants of Irish immigrants around me, but the population density of Irish Americans to anything else is nothing like it is in Boston. Since moving to Massachusetts I have encountered people who share my mother's birth-name (which is Irish) and who are not actually related to me for the first time in my life. Amusingly, I have also encountered people who couldn't spell or pronounce my last name (which is German, but only one syllable long) for the first time in my life as well. I've felt, since moving here that I am surrounded by people who take their Irish heritage seriously-much more seriously than I ever took mine. This doesn't bother me, but it just make me feel more likely to be mistaken for a poseur for wearing green on March 17th.
But after talking to my sister about all of this I feel a bit better. My sister (bless her heart) made her son wear green to school today. She said to me "He's not old enough that I can explain why to him, but I made him wear green today anyways." Good enough for me.