St. Patrick's Day 2013: How to Celebrate Like the Irish



I blinked twice at the all-caps warning, wondering why it was both a shout and a question at the same time.

This warning popped up in my email inbox this morning, along with tips for students at my school to “enjoy a safe and responsible St. Patrick’s Day” here in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

As the email went on to explain, St. Patrick's Day is “a festival which is celebrated on March 17 across the world with parades, music and songs, Irish food and drink.”

“It’s a time for fun,” the email also assured me.

St. Patrick’s Day began in the early seventeenth century when Christians decided they needed a break from Lent. The holiday honors Saint Patrick, who, as legend goes, was kidnapped from his native Scotland at the age of sixteen and taken to Ireland as a slave. Paddy (not "Patty", if you're truly Irish) was told by God in a dream to escape to the coast, where he would find a ship and return home. This plan succeeded, and Paddy consecrated his life to the church in thankfulness to God.

But Paddy didn’t just kick back in Scotland and doodle in the Book of Kells with his fellow monks. As anyone who has been to Ireland knows, a wee bit of Irishness stays with you wherever you go. Perhaps he was missing Ireland's finest Guinness beer. In any case, Paddy was plucky enough to return to Ireland and spread the gospel of Christianity. Folklore says that he used the shamrock to explain the doctrine of the trinity. Paddy died on March 17, then became a saint, but had to wait aaaall the way until 1903 to get his own public holiday.

Good things come to those who wait however, because St. Patrick’s Day is one of the biggest parties in Ireland, and around the world today. If you want to celebrate in true Irish style, there are a few legit Irish things that many legit Irish people do in honor of good ‘ol Paddy.

1. Attend a parade

The world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade is not even in Ireland. Over 2 million people typically attend the parade in New York City. The next largest parties are held in Dublin, London, and Birmingham. The wee village of Dripsey, in southern Ireland, is quite proud of “being the holder of the Shortest St Patrick's Day Parade in the World.” Their parade is just 100 yards, between the village’s two pubs. Naturally.

2. Wear some green

 It is said that there are more shades of green in Irish nature than anywhere else in the world. This is a true fact, especially because everything else is grey all the time. While you likely won’t find a pot of gold in Ireland’s current economic climate, you may be lucky enough to find a four-leaf clover. And wearing the color green increases your luck quotient.

3. Dance a céilie

This is basically the Irish version of a square dance. The MC calls out dance steps as tipsy participants attempt to dance in lines. Alternatively, break into Irish step dance, Riverdance-style, just not with any Irish people watching.

4. Eat traditional Irish foods

This mostly means potatoes, but may also include cabbage, lamb, hearty stew, shepherd’s pie, soda bread, bangers and mash, boxty,  bubble and squeak (don’t ask), and more potatoes.

5. Wash down these potatoes etc. with the “official” drink of St. Paddy’s Day: a Guinness Draught Irish Dry Stout

Indeed, drinking alcohol seems to be the favorite pastime of the Irish, and they are awfully proud of their craft beers and whiskeys. Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT dye your beer green. That is an offense of the highest degree here in Ireland (followed closely by Riverdance). And always remember, if you’re going to drink, have at least one pint of water in between each pint of alcohol, in order to avoid what my university’s alarmist email warned about the “implications of anti-social behaviour.” 

6. Wash down all that Guinness with confession at your church of choice

Some Christians lift the Lenten restrictions on fasting and drinking alcohol especially for this holiday, which doesn’t exactly help toward chastity and reflection. Special church services honor St. Patrick’s life and work, getting back to the true meaning of the holiday. 

Here in Belfast, a city historically divided between Catholics (who typically identify as Irish) and Protestants (who typically identify as British), St. Patrick’s Day is actually a “religious” holiday that everyone can agree on. This is mainly because it has been secularized and co-opted by Guinness. So whether you’re in Dublin, New York, or Dripsey, raise a pint to your neighbor, no matter their faith (“everyone’s Irish on St. Paddy’s,” Guinness tells us), and to St. Patrick the Plucky, who will certainly be the downfall of all our academic and professional careers.