All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of life springs ever green. —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I’m not always the most observant person in the world. I turned on Spotify last night and discovered they’d added a new playlist for me: Greatest St. Paddy’s Day Hits. Apparently, it’s been there a week and will go away after today. I’m still trying to figure out what is Irish about Tracy Chapman’s cover of Stand By Me or Ray Charles’ I’ve Got A Woman. I think the creators of the list might have been stretching a bit to come up with 12 hours worth of music on the theme. I’m thankful, though, they didn’t just include songs with the word green in the title. That would be a strange list.These are the type of things we encounter on St. Patrick’s Day each year. They turned Indianapolis’ downtown canal green yesterday (not that it needed much help) and I’m sure several other cities did something similar. .
These are the type of things we encounter on St. Patrick’s Day each year. They turned Indianapolis’ downtown canal green yesterday (not that it needed much help) and I’m sure several other cities did something similar. There will be orange, white, and green flags flying everywhere. Children will wear silly green mustaches. People will get drunk on really weak green beer and the truly desperate will wear “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” t-shirts. The party starts early and won’t end until the last redhead falls under the table.
I don’t have any problem with celebrating Irish tradition and culture; theirs is a very rich and very long history that can be reasonably dated to 4,000 BCE and even further than that if one wants to believe certain overly-patriotic Irish authors. I once attempted to read a very large book that supposedly contained the exhaustive history of Ireland in which the author claimed the Irish ancestors were responsible for everything from the creation of language to the invention of the wheel. Unfortunately, I never finished the book as I kept falling asleep on top of its pages. The book is demonstrative, though, of just how long and deep Irish culture is. There are plenty of reasons to celebrate.
Still, you might as well go ahead and pinch me now, I’m not wearing green. The reasons are simple: 1. I don’t have anything green. If you know me, you know my wardrobe is very monochrome, occupying only the black palette. 2. I’m not Irish. Not even a little bit. In the great melting pot that is our family bloodline, about a third is Cherokee/Choctaw and the rest is a mix of Dutch, German, French, and Russian. No Irish at all. 3. I’m not Catholic. Never have been. Never want to be. This may be the most important reason because orange is just as important an Irish color as is green, but which one wears totally depends on whether one is Protestant (orange) or Catholic (green) and both sides are equally strong. This is why there are three colors, not one, in the Irish flag.
The line between celebrating a culture and misappropriating it can sometimes be quite thin. There’s nothing wrong with today’s parades and parties. Irish people have contributed significantly to the American culture and way of life despite the fact they were treated quite horribly when they first arrived. Had a certain presidential candidate been alive 100 years ago, he likely would have been proposing a ban on Irish; many politicians of the time actually suggested such a thing. Fortunately, that ban never happened, but they were still treated horrifically until after WWII. Celebrating all that the Irish have done for American is totally appropriate.
Unfortunately, like many things we Americans do, we take it too far. The Irish are a wonderfully hospitable people but that doesn’t give us the right to completely misappropriate and misrepresent their culture, even for a day, just so we can make a buck or have an excuse to take the day off work and get drunk. Wearing green is totally insincere if one is neither Irish or Catholic. All the stuff about leprechauns and pots of gold, green beer, silly t-shirts, and dying everything green has less to do with celebrating a culture and more to do with trying to make a quick buck off a culture the greater majority of people don’t even begin to understand. Just because our Irish friends invite us to party with them doesn’t give us a right to completely take over the day and completely misrepresent who they are.
Who are the Irish? They’re hard-working, god-fearing people with a tenacity that has gotten them through famine, drought, and unwarranted hostility. They’ve had their way of life threatened, they’ve survived the natural hardships of living on a craggy rock of an island in the North Atlantic, and still they’ve managed to flourish with a form of art, music, dance, literature, and fashion that is all their own. They are distinctive from other European tribes of the region. They work hard, fight harder, and have a passion unmatchable. Those are all things worthy of being celebrated.
Yes, we’ll be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day today, but we’ll attempt to do so appropriately. We’ll go to the parade and take pictures (which we’ll post here tomorrow), we’ll enjoy the company of an Irish friend or two, and at some point, we’ll likely enjoy one of the best beers made. Just don’t look for me to be wearing any green; not this year, not ever. Celebrate, don’t misappropriate.