Tisinger: Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in moderation

Sarah Tisinger

The part about Iowa State’s Spring Break that I always look forward to most isn’t vacationing — because I haven’t had the finances to travel — but St. Patrick’s Day, which is almost here: Thursday, March 17, to be precise.

I never thought much about the holiday until I actually visited Ireland. In the same way that Australians don’t typically drink Fosters beer, the Irish don’t celebrate St. Patty’s Day nearly to the same extent Americans do. Some of the Irish I questioned about it actually called us crazy and somewhat demented.

“You turn your river green! We’d never do anything crazy as that,” an Irish fellow said to me in a pub.

In case you’re interested in seeing the Chicago River turn green this year, it’s happening Saturday, March 12.

After hearing that claim, I had to do some digging.

St. Patrick’s Day, as most of us know, was started as a religious celebration in honor of Saint Patrick visiting Ireland and bringing Catholicism with him; St. Patrick did this in the fifth century, according to Diversity Insight, a blog dedicated to educating corporations on cultural holidays and rights.

It wasn’t until 1762 that the first parade occurred to celebrate the holiday. Oh, and it took place in New York City. Congress even went so far in 1995 as to make March the Irish-American Heritage Month; the president issues a proclamation each year.

It makes sense that the Irish are a proud people. Ireland isn’t exactly known to have the best economic records, and the Irish are stereotyped as alcoholic, leprechaun-seeking morons who are more than happy to start a fist fight.

The Irish weren’t exactly accepted into America, but with the potato famine, political rebellions and religious prejudices, many Irish bought into the sense of the American dream.

But Irish culture has gotten intermixed with American culture so that Americans don’t even realize what it means to be Irish anymore.

Claddagh rings are extremely popular in America now, stylized with the two hearts holding a heart with a crown upon it. But many women who wear one can’t even tell me which way to wear it to symbolize single or taken. They don’t even realize that the term “Claddagh ring” came from the town in Ireland where they originated.

It doesn’t seem out of bounds, then, that Americans drink green beer, decorate themselves with shamrocks — which aren’t even the true symbol of Ireland — and dye our rivers green. The holiday has become so skewed that we don’t really celebrate St. Patrick anymore, but just Ireland in general.

Personally, I wear a Claddagh ring and an engagement ring that has Celtic knots. Both came straight from Ireland. I’ve been to the Emerald Isles twice; I listen to traditional Celtic and modern Irish music; and I have a fair bit of Irish ancestry.

But that doesn’t mean I’m Irish. My ancestors were, and I’m proud of that. I’m also German, Welsh, English and Norwegian.

I’m not going to participate in celebrations to turn a river green. I’m not going to go out and drink Guinness — I’m more of a Bulmer/Magners drinker myself — or pretend that I’m Irish. But I will go out and celebrate with a green shirt on, because it’s fun.

I guess the moral of the story is, kids, is that we’re all a little Irish; and we’re all most definitely not. Don’t pretend to be what you’re not. But March 17, I hope to see you all out getting your Irish on.