St. Patrick’s Day is one of those ambiguous special occasions that can be quite confusing for non-Irish adults like me.
As a kid, the allure of St. Patrick’s Day was uncomplicated. I got to wear something green to school, and if I begged, my mom would take me to McDonalds for one of my all time favorite seasonal treats. Mildly green, with just a hint of mint, the Shamrock Shake was strangely delicious when paired with a side of fries for dipping. And I didn’t need to be Irish to enjoy it.
As a college student, having Irish heritage was still irrelevant when March 17 rolled around. No one I knew was interested in getting in touch with their roots. To the contrary, St. Patrick’s Day was simply an excuse to drink green beer at the local bars until we made complete idiots out of ourselves. In fact, my best St. Patrick’s Day memory was during my senior year in college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Our marathon annual “Green Beer Day” celebration ended at dusk, when the shopping cart we were riding down an alley while laughing hysterically came to a stop in front of a police officer.
But when I turned into a middle-aged adult, St. Patrick’s Day’s relevance in my life became muddled. My taste buds had lost their longing for fast food shakes, and it was inappropriate for a mother of three to be drinking pitchers of green beer at the bars, so I had to adopt different traditions. One might think that pouring a pint of Guinness and requesting The Cranberries on Pandora is everyone’s God-given right on March 17th, but I’ve discovered that non-Irish Americans are marginalized on St. Paddy’s Day.
People with Irish blood have more rights on St. Patrick’s Day. Even if their only connection is that your great uncle thrice removed was one-seventh Irish. Even if the closest thing they’ve ever had to Irish culture was a bowl of Lucky Charms. Even if they were born and raised on a chili pepper farm outside of Albuquerque. As long as they are technically Irish, they are afforded full privileges on St. Patrick’s Day.
Pseudo-Irish Americans have carte blanche to suddenly speak with the rolling “Rs” and over-enunciated “Ts” of Irish brogue. They’re permitted to utter phrases like “Top O’ the mornin’ t’ya!” and “She’s a fine young lassie!” They can unattractively fist pump to U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” even though all they know is the chorus. Without the slightest bit of credibility, they can suddenly develop a hankering for bland Irish Soda Bread and pungent Crockpots of fatty corned beef and mushy cooked cabbage.
On the other hand, we non-Irish, despite our identical American upbringing, are not afforded the same liberties as our pseudo-Irish friends. We must simply stand back and repeatedly listen to that insensitive saying about the only two kinds of people in the world – “the Irish and those who wish they were.”
The only way for the non-Irish to avoid this annual humiliation is to concede defeat, no matter how unjust it seems. And don’t try to reason with them because it simply won’t work. I once drew a comparison between my direct Welsh heritage, with its Celtic language and similar agrarian way of life, to the Irish culture. Despite the fact that Wales and Ireland are only separated by the tiny Irish Sea, my analogy was met with indignant outrage by a distantly Irish in-law who was born and raised in New Jersey, “You’re not Irish!”
I’ve learned that, in order for we non-Irish to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day, we need to tell a little white lie – or green as it were – and exclaim that we wish we were Irish too. Like amnesty for undocumented immigrants, simple surrender will authorize us to wear tacky green beads and silly plastic hats, to guzzle Guinness and slop stew, to adorn ourselves with buttons that obnoxiously demand “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” and to shamelessly dangle shamrocks from our ears and rear view mirrors.
In other words, when dealing with the “fighting Irish” on St. Patty’s Day, it’s always best to roll with the punches.