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Americanizing St. Patrick's Day - Celebrating the Irish holiday like an American

By: Amanda Ray

April 6, 2011

four leaf clovers

Americans have embraced St. Patrick’s Day as their own for years. We have combined Irish traditions with our own to create a new interpretation of the day, including activities such as toasting the Irish with pints of Guinness, leprechaun hunting, and covering ourselves head-to-toe in shamrock attire.

Jim McDaniel, a 1999 Visual Communications graduate from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, always looks forward to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

"I enjoy St. Patrick's Day every year,” McDaniel says. “I've been celebrating it since I was a wee lad." 

McDaniel’s favorite St. Patrick’s Day traditions include, “tilting back some pints of Guinness and finding leprechauns’ pots o' gold."

Robin Monique Rios, a 2003 Visual Communications graduate from the Illinois Institute of Art — Chicago says her family has been passing down a tradition from her great grandmother of making corned beef and cabbage every St. Patrick’s Day.

Rios says that numerous events are held in Chicago each year to celebrate St. Patrick.

“There are a number of festivals and parades that go on in and outside the city,” Rios says. “There is the Chicago Parade and the dyeing of the Chicago River, which seems to be the major St. Patrick's Day event.”

Celebrating like the Irish

“In Ireland, St. Patrick's Day is much more of a holy day,” says Sheila McMahon, founder of online Irish gift shop A Bit O' Blarney. “You go to mass and it is a much quieter day spent with family, although there are parades such as a big one in Dublin. It is nothing like the States as regards to getting drunk.”

David Lawlor of StPatricksDay.com, agrees that the history of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are very different in Ireland compared to the United States.

“Until the 1970s it was the law that pubs be closed on this day,” Lawlor says. 

Lawlor says that although the way St. Patrick is celebrated in Ireland is different from the States, it has evolved through the years.

“The real difference is not how they are now celebrated, but how they began and changed,” Lawlor says. “In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day was originally seen more as a religious holiday as compared to the US where it became a representation of being Irish.”

Irish for a day

Although St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish holiday, Americans have adopted it as their own.

“Americanization of the holiday was created by Irish for Irish so in general I am OK with how the holiday has grown and is celebrated,” Lawlor says. “I can only hope that the focus stays on the saint himself and what he represented as compared to the party aspect of the holiday.”

Lawlor says he doesn’t think the Irish are offended by the passion that Americans show for their holiday.

“I do believe that those living in Ireland support America’s enthusiasm for the holiday,” Lawlor says. “They have adopted the parades that were started here in America and it seems the number of parades grows each year.  I think in general Irish will always support Irish whether in Ireland or the US.”  

Lawlor says the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was actually held in the United States, which started the holiday’s popularity in the country.

“St. Patrick’s Day became popular starting with the first parade when the Irish soldiers marched down the streets of New York City and were able to express their Irish pride and heritage,” Lawlor says. “This expression of heritage became an asset to Irish politics and a way to promote Irish strength within the ranks of Americans.”

Lawlor says that St. Patrick’s Day is popular with Americans today because they enjoy the parades, parties, and general fun that go along with celebrating St. Patrick.

McMahon says she is flattered by American’s fascination with Ireland, although she does not understand it.

“There are 40 million people of Irish descent in the US so maybe they are just hanging on to their roots in whatever way they can,” McMahon says.

McMahon believes that Americans, even those not of Irish descent, enjoy the chance that the holiday gives them to pretend to be Irish for a day.

“Americans are fascinated with Ireland,” McMahon says. “On St. Patrick's Day everyone is Irish – just ask them!”

Although she appreciates the excitement, McMahon wishes that Americans would celebrate the holiday in a more civilized manner, instead of using the day as an excuse to party.

“The American interpretation of St. Patrick's Day is crass and outlandish and drunken debauchery which is a far cry from the quiet day spent in Ireland,” McMahon says. “It reminds me of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”

Festivities for St. Patrick across the world

Karen Murphy, manager of Shamrocker Adventures in Dublin, Ireland, says that St. Patrick’s Day is the country’s biggest holiday of the year.

“It's a bank holiday so all banks, offices, etc. are closed,” Murphy says. “There is generally a parade in each town around the country.”

Murphy says that many visitors tend to vacation in Ireland over St. Patrick’s Day, as it is a popular tourist attraction.

“I am sure St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in almost every country to some extent,” Lawlor says. 

He says that Japan celebrates the holiday for nearly an entire month and has multiple parades across the country.

“A few other countries that celebrate St. Patrick’s Day are Australia, Canada, UK, Singapore, and Russia,” Lawlor says.

Regardless of a person’s family heritage or the country they reside in, people across the globe enjoy their annual chance to be Irish for a day.

Author: Laura Jerpi

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