Singular Cerebrations: Shamrocks and Shenanigans
Once upon a time the feast of Saint Patrick was a religious holiday meant to commemorate the patron saint of Ireland, held on the traditional date of his death. Saint Patrick was largely responsible for converting Ireland to Christianity in the 5th century, and received an official holiday in the early 17th century. Celebrated by many Christian sects, but most famously by Catholics, the day became popular in part because of Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol being lifted for the feast. Naturally, this encouraged and propagated the consumption of alcohol, which has led to most sane people barricading themselves inside to avoid being puked on during the festivities.
Over the years Saint Patrick's Day has become more secularized, and is seen by many as simply a celebration of Irish culture. Participants are encouraged to wear green, carry shamrocks, and dress as leprechauns. But why? Well, the green one is easy to explain. The color green has been associated with Ireland since the 1640s and the adoption of the green harp flag by Irish nationalists. And shamrocks, at least, have a religious connotation, since legend has it that Saint Patrick used them to explain the idea of the Holy Trinity to his pagan disciples. The leprechaun thing, unfortunately, is just plain bigotry.
The modern image of leprechauns that exists in popular culture is based upon 19th century caricatures of the Irish that were, well, let's just say less than ideal. The Irish were a marginalized people, and were depicted as brutish, drunken louts. Over time that unfortunate image was sanitized by converting it into the much friendlier representative of Ireland--the leprechaun. The bigotry behind the depiction is all-but-forgotten, and generally today leprechauns have become a more gentle, toned-down version of their much more offensive progenitors.
So, this Saint Patrick's Day, regardless of your race, religion, or ethnicity, please try to remember that at one time--and still today for some people--this holiday actually had powerful religious significance. And for God's sake, if you want to dress like a mildly offensive stereotype and drink green beer until you puke, please leave your keys at home. Seriously, don't drink and drive. Happy Saint Patrick's Day!
Yours in Impossibility,