St. Patrick’s Day was this weekend. Given my current circumstances, I didn’t do what I usually do – in any sense actually. St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day to honor my ancestors and heritage, and of course, a day of dressing up and drinking with my friends. I don’t have a disconnect between my spirituality and the things I enjoy – and I’m sure my ancestors enjoyed a good party with booze as well. So celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is something I have almost always done in some way. This year I didn’t do anything spiritual or even watch a parade this year, but I’m going to go ahead and share my thoughts on St. Patrick’s Day.
Traditionally, St. Patrick’s Day is the feast day of St. Patrick the patron saint of Ireland. Right, okay, so this is celebrated traditionally in Ireland and by the Irish because St. Patrick converted the Irish to Christianity. Celtic Christianity however, which differs in somewhat big ways from Roman Catholicism. It seems strange then that a Pagan would choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. After all, I am celebrating the driving out (or underground) of the “snakes” (pagans) of Ireland. For me, St. Patrick’s Day is more about honoring my ancestors and maintaining a cultural identity as an Irish-American. As a Pagan, it’s important to me that I honor my heritage (and not to devalue anyone else’s).
In the United States, it’s a big celebration with parades, green beer, Irish music in Irish pubs, and a bunch of crazy people wearing green. St. Patrick’s Day has becomes a celebration of Irish culture both in Ireland and among the Irish Diaspora. One reason for the massive waves of migration out of Ireland was the Great Famine; which was actually not reflective of the condition of Ireland in general but more of English occupation of Ireland and the feudal system which left little land for the Irish to farm. Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and Irish culture is important to maintain a cultural identity within a diaspora. Additionally, the anti-Irish and anti-Catholic attitudes many Irish immigrants faced in the United States during the height of Irish immigration still survive in modified prejudices. The traces of anti-Irish attitudes can still be seen today in derogatory nature of terms like “paddy wagon” (a police van to transport prisoners/the arrested) and the stereotypes of Irish men as violent drunks and Irish women as reckless breeders have survived even into today. The Irish-American or any other hyphen identity is just as relevant as any other cultural identity in that it is a valid culture within the larger culture. Like other diaspora groups, the Irish, especially those identified with the Catholic Church, have kept a certain cultural identity that is “Irish.”
I will gladly take any excuse to have fun with my friends and dress up in silly costumes. However, I usually also go to a St. Patrick’s Day mass and light a candle for my grandpa, and sometimes one for other family members if I remember. My family is one of those Irish-Catholic American families: my great grandparents emigrated from Ireland in the early 1900s. They went on to have basically a lot of children and had a working class life. My grandpa was the youngest. Like many Irish women, some of his sisters went into the Church as nuns and teachers. For me, a large part of my cultural identity is as an Irish-Catholic woman. Sometimes it’s difficult to separate the cultural traditions of my family from my spirituality. As much as I want pagan children, I also want my children to have those special moments I did like First Communion, big Baptisms, and possibly even Catholic schools. There is a sense of community where I live among Irish-Catholics and it’s difficult to identify as one without the other. For St. Patrick’s Day I blend together a little of both traditions. Since often St. Patrick’s Day night, I can be found at whatever bar my friends choose – or whoever’s house with two dozen Irish Car-bomb Cupcakes and a Guinness Stout cake decorated with a green snake.