St. Patrick’s Day as it is observed in most American cities is a consumerist sham. Sure, it started in the early 17th century as a religious feast day honoring the death day of St. Patrick in 462 AD, but it has devolved to a level of kitsch that deters many from any desire to observe the day at all.
The arguments against the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day are sound. Patrick, or Maewyn Succat according to some sources, wasn’t even Irish, for one. According to The Confession of Saint Patrick, he was a British teenager who was captured by Irish pirates and taken as a slave to Ireland where he lived for six years before escaping. He later became a cleric and then a bishop who returned to northern and western Ireland to spend the rest of his life evangelizing, ordaining clergy, and organizing a new religious order.
The most famous legend attached to St. Patrick also doesn’t hold up well in the light of modern interpretation. All scientific evidence suggests that the post-glacial island of Ireland never had snakes in the first place so this notion of St. Patrick banishing them can only be a symbolic representation of what he actually did destroy, the Druidry of the native Irish people.
Leaving history aside, there’s also the problems with how St. Patrick’s Day is most commonly celebrated now. Namely, with lots of green beer and t-shirts emblazoned with tasteless stereotypes. Google ‘Irish yoga’ if you’re confused.
That’s the bathwater. Now let me describe the baby.
The music of Ireland, of which I have been both scholar and devotee for more than three decades, is compellingly, heartrendingly beautiful. The same can be said of the dance traditions with the additional observation that Irish dancers are also dedicated and capable athletes. Irish food has never gotten the respect given to other European cuisines but if you’re ever actually had good Irish food, you know as I do how hearty and tasty it can be.
The place to be in eastern Iowa on this coming St. Patrick’s Day (Friday, March 17) is Uptown Bill’s Coffee House in Iowa City beginning at 6 pm. Bring a dish to pass in the potluck and an instrument to join in the open session that follows dinner. Maybe you’ll go on after the festivities and find yourself some green beer. Whatever floats your boat. There’s no wrong way to celebrate but there is more than one way.