[Originally posted a version of this on Facebook on St. Patrick’s Day, 2013]
Why don’t I wear green on St. Patrick’s day? Well, when I grew up in Dublin many decades ago, I knew no one who wore green. Instead people would wear either a special badge or perhaps a sprig of shamrock on their lapel. Later when I came to the U.S. I discovered that not only do some Americans actually drink beer dyed green on St. Patrick’s day but many of them, even those with tenuous or no links to Ireland, make a point of wearing something green on that day. Like an anthropologist I slowly began to understand some of the peculiarities of American culture and I came to realize that the wearing of the green was part of an odd Hallmark’ized coloring of the American calendar which also called for particular seasonal colors for days around Christmas, St. Valentines’ Day, and Halloween. But it would seem odd for me to wear green, to be more Irish in America than I had been in Ireland, so I didn’t, and out of stubbornness I still don’t. This can be confusing to my Irish-American acquaintances, and I worry that they might consider my pointedly non-green attire as a rebuke of their heritage.
The truth is I did not consider myself Irish when I grew up in Ireland – with the brashness of youth I styled myself a citizen of the world, and considered my moving to London after college as inconsequential as someone growing up in Vermont moving to New York. In fact it was many years later, after my peregrinations had taken me to New Jersey, that it dawned on me that the label that could be applied to me was not my romantic notion of “citizen of the world” but rather that most clichéd label, “an Irish emigrant”.
Over time I have come to be at peace with my Irishness. I have even discovered a liking for traditional Irish music. My politics are still firmly anti-nationalistic, but now their target has broadened: I am as much sickened now by jingoistic nationalism from parts of American society as I was then by anti-Britishness from Irish Republicans. My views on religion are still the same, but now I am as appalled by the science-denying American fundamentalists as I was then by the socially repressive Catholic Church.
But still there is much to celebrate on this day. The most important thing brought to Ireland in that 4th Century cultural transformation associated with the semi-mythical St. Patrick was the gift of written language and of Latin, thus joining us into the great stream of European culture dating from the Greeks. Through ups and downs of the subsequent seventeen centuries we have shaped an Irish culture in which the written word is valued, and we have punched above our weight in world literature.
And in the end, the exuberance of the American celebration of St. Patrick is mostly harmless, and indeed I take it as a good natured recognition and appreciation of the value that the Irish have brought to the American melting pot.
So everyone, hope you had fun today and felt good vibes while wearing green if you chose to do so. Wishing you sláinte as I take a sip from my nightcap, my all time favorite beer – Racer 5 IPA from Sonoma County, California.