Okay, not exactly. That’s kind of a misleading title. We DO celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, just not in the way most Americans do. How I came to make this decision is a long story… as most Irish ones are, so let’s get started.
It’s not exactly a new issue for me, it’s bothered me for a long while and seems to bother me just a little bit more every year. I should mention now that I’m certain I will offend people with this post or inspire the flame of defense in others, but y’know what? Oh well. I’m tired of pretending it doesn’t bother me.
When I saw this video last night of an Irish girl encouraging people not to use the word “paddy” in their celebrations this week, it got me thinking about it again, as I often do this time of year, but any time someone brings up the challenges of race and past oppression in our global history. Here is the video in case you’ve not seen it;
When I was younger, St Patrick’s day, or,Lá Fhéile Pádraig as it’s written in Irish Gaelic, was an excuse to listen to Celtic music and Irish Punk as loud as possible, dress up cute in green clothes and drink my favorite beer, (which was basically business as usual, only with more people) so it never really bothered me. I’d spent years working and participating in renaissance faires where Irish, as well as Scottish and English cultures were explored through traditional music, dance, language and art. I became transfixed and obsessively set on learning all about my own heritage. While the horrors lying deep within my own lineage were clear, and while I hated the ancient English and mostly the Romans for that, I never connected any of it with the modern holiday we celebrate today. I called it “St Paddy’s Day” just like most others do and thought nothing of it. I wasn’t offended by the glaring stereotypes being displayed. I mean heck, it was the one week of the year that others seemed to enjoy the things I’d always loved, so why should I complain, right? But the older I get and the older my children get, the more I cannot seem to look past the bigger picture.
No one knows why we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. No one really knows who St. Patrick is or what he is known for doing in Ireland. Most of our American children actually believe he was some sort of reptile pied piper who literally chased all snakes into the ocean and saved the Irish people from certain death. Hardly anyone I know knows why “paddy” is and should always be considered a term of deep offense to anyone of Irish lineage.
So many people don’t know our VERY recent history in this nation. They have no knowledge of the deep, dark history of oppression of the Irish Celtic people and most are so far removed that even if they did know, it makes no difference to them.
The reason I’m publishing this here on the “mom page”, is because I believe it is vital for us as Americans to celebrate all cultures. We should mourn all losses as a human culture and together, strive toward greatness with true knowledge, a fundamental respect of one another’s histories and that is how I am raising my children. It seems a common misunderstanding in our modern American culture that all men and women descendant of someone of lighter skin is and always has, as well as their genealogical line, been privileged. Well friends, that simply is not the case.
With that in mind, I don’t want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day traditionally anymore. I don’t want my children to think of this holiday as simply the time of year to cut out shamrocks and wear green so you don’t get pinched (what does getting pinched have to do with Ireland in the first place??). I also don’t want them to think it has anything to do with snakes and I will teach them that sometimes, religious people do terrible things in the name of their very gracious, loving and (thankfully for them) forgiving God. I want them to understand their own heritage and to be able to respectfully celebrate this day for what it truly is to our family.
Am I getting all bent out of shape for nothing? Well, you tell me. Maybe I am… I’m a hot-headed Celtic lass after all, so I’m prone to flying off the handle for no reason, right? (stereotypes are fun, yes? *Rolls eyes*)
Irish folks (and many others who are not of Irish descent) who actually celebrate the real holiday are largely of Catholic and Christian faiths. They celebrate the “driving out of the snakes” and give praise to God for how St. Patrick saved the world. So, let’s get into that… How did he do that, exactly?
First of all, you do know he didn’t drive out actual SNAKES, right?? Those were people. ENTIRE TRIBES of families all across the island – driven from their homes and murdered if they refused to convert. St. Patrick led the charge to irradiate an entire nation of indigenous people in the name of his own faith. Some say the “snake” thing was because the Druids worshiped snakes (which actually, no they really didn’t), but it was more than that. It went beyond the symbol of the serpent in their traditions to take on a whole new, cruel connotation. People who were considered less than human, no better than lowliest of creatures- those who had to slither along the dirt and grime on their bellies and likened unto Satan himself.
Because they were a proud, indigenous culture who practiced an ancient faith and refused to give up their way of life, they were murdered by the thousands or converted at the point of a sword, as well as under false pretenses. Because a new faith from a far off land that someone with a bigger army decided was more important than the way they had believed for thousands of years prior, they were all but destroyed.
“Join or die” was the choice they were given by the Roman/English who came to claim the land in the name of their Holy Father took the land. Many chose to fight and all were eventually killed or converted. Some made it to the outskirts or across the sea and went into hiding elsewhere in the surrounding, tiny islands. The culture all but died off completely as a result.
Now, in our modern culture and by commonly accepted definition, we tend to consider the kind of mass murder in the name of faith an act of epic, religious extremist terrorism. It is known as a holocaust, ethnic cleansing or genocide and is typically frowned upon by our global community in this day and age, yes?
In THIS country, when the same sort of mass murder happened here… scores of natives were murdered and scattered to the four winds. We learn all about the arrogance of a government who did terrible things to a beautiful, proud people. It’s something about our American culture we are taught to be ashamed of and yet, we celebrate the SAME type of cultural destruction with a holiday that, to me, is far more demeaning than some baseball team with a red-faced mascot because it’s actually celebrating the deaths of thousands in the name of superiority. As little consolation, at least the natives of America had room to move, to leave, to flee and they were offered (a horrible, demeaning option) land to hide away in. The ancient Irish however, were just murdered with no thought to conversion unless they were children who could be molded in the new ascending culture that was meant to replace the old. Here in the vastness of America, the natives could flee, but there? It was like shooting fish in a barrel with nowhere for them to go.
Ever wonder about the Celtic Cross everyone is so fond of? Well, many believe it’s the symbol of a joined culture under false pretenses. Historians and religious symbolism as well as modern pagans will tell you the circle is the symbol of the Sun god worshiped by the Celtic people. Others believe it represents the many sacred standing stone circles throughout Celtic lands. See, the Christians who destroyed the the ancient culture did so strategically. They placed their new symbols and saints over the ancient ones so the people did not feel completely displaced, they could continue to bring offerings to the sacred wells and standing stone locations for holidays and festivals, but now, you must call your Goddess Mary and you must call your God the Holy Father. So, with the Celtic Cross, the ancient Christians placed that Celtic symbol over their cross to symbolize the conversion of the ancient culture. They (St. Patrick himself, as the legend goes) blessed the new, conjoined symbol as a way to solidify the purge of the old, “dark” ways to bring forth the new tradition of Christianity. Sacred sites were blessed as sacred to the Christian faith and those who did convert did not feel as much of a sting of conquest.
Personal note here; I find the Celtic cross a beautiful symbol as a work of historic art, a symbol of deep tradition and culture and as a shining marker that proves you can pave over the ancient ways, but that does not mean they are destroyed. Yet, to many traditional Irish people, as well as modern Pagans, it’s a symbol on the same level as the swastika. It’s a symbol of the annihilation of an ancient people and it is deeply offensive. Most Catholic and Christian followers will tell you this is untrue, that we cannot historically confirm any of this. I say, go look it up. It’s available information- in fact, I learned all of this from a history class then re-learned it again in an ancient religions course, both in college… not some new age pagan website with glitter and sparkles. This is also the common understanding of what happened if you ask the locals, so you can believe the Church, or you can believe literally everyone else. Your choice.
It is my belief that, regardless of your current, modern faith, this history should offend you. It should upset you to know that in the name of your (or anyone’s) God, entire cultures are now completely lost to us. ALL faiths should be upset by any mass destruction of culture and it should be a black stain of shame upon all our hearts – not something that is celebrated. Especially in this modern world where religious extremists are threatening all of us.
We don’t think about that though, do we, in America? When we celebrate this holiday by donning costumes that depict offensive stereotypes with outrageous curly red wigs, drawing freckles on our faces and donning shiny plastic green and gold hats and calling each other “paddy” as though it’s a term of endearment. Some do none of that, simply finding the day a great excuse to call off work and go visit an Irish pub they’ve never been to.
Now, onto the term “patty” or “paddy”, doesn’t really matter how you spell it it’s the same term. If you knew where it came from, I should hope you would not be so inclined to use it, so here’s some history. It was a derogatory, racial slur given by non-Irish to dehumanize them. It is a term on par with “redskin” or the “n” word, a name not given to the Irish people by their own doing but given by others,to demean, identify and stereotype them along with terms like “potato head”, jokingly (and insultingly) referring to the potato famine that disabled the entire nation and killed many people. This would be similar to inventing a racial slur to make fun of the Native Americans dying of small pox. It’s not funny.
We Americans tell jokes about how the Irish are never sober and then use that as an excuse to get tanked beyond belief on cheap, green beer (which any Irish person worth their salt wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole by the way) and then we pretend we are Irish because we wear green. Because Irish people only wear green, right? You should look up the reason why green is the color of the day, and of Ireland in general. It’s a pretty neat story. We see tee shirts that read,”Kiss me I’m Irish” and you can overhear people bragging – “I’m one one-hundredth of a quarter Irish on my mother’s side, kiss me!”. Implying… what, exactly…? That Irish people are known for being easy, drunk and stupid? Little, adorable leprechaun statues dancing around a rainbow kissing each other… sure, it’s sweet, so why get all bent about it? Well, it really is not that sweet when you realize it’s implying that if you’re Irish, your easy and when you go to a bar on St. Patrick’s day and you happen to actually BE Irish, people just expect you to do it. The French have this same stereotype and it’s no fun for them either. SUPER good time for those of us who are both, let me tell ya. There IS an expectation there, folks and it’s because of that stereotype.
The idea that the Irish are welcoming and loving people is absolutely true and if you want to be Irish and be part of that culture, I don’t know anyone who would deny you that! You are welcome to enjoy the culture, to be immersed in it, love it, be part of it and dive into it’s beauty, to play and sing the music, to buy cable-knit sweaters and drink Guinness in a pub and appreciate it all. But no, you cannot be “Irish for a day” to get free, green beer and kisses from strangers and not expect ACTUAL Irish people to be at least the tiniest bit offended.
Would we allow a day where everyone gets to be Black? Endearingly calling one another the “n” word and walking around in blackface with wigs so we can get free alcohol? That would last all of a quarter of a second before it literally started the next race war and rightfully so because that would be deeply, horrifyingly offensive in every way possible. So why is it cool to do that to the Irish culture? Maybe we just need to be fine with it because well, Irish are “white” anyway, so who cares if they get upset, right?
The Irish were slaves in this nation, too, and a common term for them were “Irish n**ers”. In fact in some parts of the country, Irish were considered less human than every other culture or race and treated as such and I’m not talking in ancient times or 200 years ago, guys. I’m talking like, a generation ago – even less years than that. There are still people living today to believe that an Irishman shouldn’t be allowed to work, that they are no better than dirt and have no right to be treated as everyone else.
The Irish were not only considered less human, but also down right evil and if you were a redhead on top of that – oh well, every misfortune in your town was blamed on you because red hair meant you had the fires of Hell within you. Oh, you didn’t know any of that? LOOK IT UP.
Here’s a relevant personal anecdote; My grandmother did not have a father and thus, a major piece of our family tree is literally missing because he was a red-headed Irishman and was not allowed anywhere near her family.
So now, long after the days when Irish were considered lower than dirt to almost every other culture in the known world, the holiday remains. The holiday itself can be a beautiful remembrance of culture, faith and a fabulous amount of fun. But the way we Americans celebrate it; not as a faith-based holiday, not as a heritage holiday… just as a an excuse to get drunk and stupid and have our children cut out paper clovers and snakes… I just cannot continue that in my house.
Now that my children are old enough to understand things, I have made the decision this year to do things a bit differently. I’m not going to pretend it’s okay anymore. I am not going to teach them that it’s cool have your culture exploited so random people who know nothing about it can have an excuse to get drunk. I will not allow them to blindly believe that it had anything to do with snakes. So what WILL we do?
In order to teach our children the truth of their heritage, we will celebrate an “Irish Heritage Week” in our house by celebrating the culture and beauty of Ireland and our own family history as related to it. Not with green food coloring, red curly wigs and an excuse to drink crap beer or to stock up on Irish whisky while it’s on sale. (although, I probably will take advantage of that, I admit) We will tell tales of fairies and legends of leprechauns. We will watch The Secret of the Kells and learn the history that surrounds it’s beauty. We may visit a ceili dance or an Irish faire. We might cut out shamrocks and string together green and gold popcorn, maybe even wear some shamrock jewelry and wear green outfits on that day and I will absolutely let them have fun with it, but they will know the WHY behind it all. We will honor the struggle of those who came before us. I will teach them the truth; that this holiday exists to celebrate the destruction of a native culture that they are a part of, but we can turn that around seeing the good by celebrating their sacrifices and triumphs of the culture throughout history and the immense beauty that came from the joining of the two worlds.
So that’s my long story. The bottom line is, the Irish are a strong, courageous and proud people and our children deserve to understand that, to learn respect for it. We were slaves, we were tortured, we were shamed, we were all but destroyed and yet beauty, faith and power remains and that is something glorious to be celebrated. So, happy Irish Heritage Week, everyone! Drink a pint of liquid bread and listen to a pipe reel. Have an amazing time celebrating the heritage and culture of the Irish people, even if you are not the tiniest bit Irish yourself, wear green and hang shamrocks on the wall and be honored to know that we now live in a world where it is acceptable to be Irish, to love the Irish culture and to share in it’s beauty- ALL year long, not just today.