Luck of the Irish
Why we celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
11:00 PM, Mar 16, 2006 • By JOSEPH LINDSLEY
TOWARD THE END of St. Patrick's Day, I often wonder why Americans, whatever our creed, use this religious holiday as an opportunity to morph into libertines. Sure, we all celebrate the merry holidays, such as Christmas and St. Paddy's, but you don't see nonbelievers fasting on Yom Kippur or Good Friday.
The answer of course is that drinking beer (up to a point) is an enjoyable and marketable task. But would St. Patrick approve of the way people celebrate the anniversary of his death? Someday, far removed from the death of Martin Luther King, will we celebrate his day with copious drink? I would hope so, but perhaps that's because of my Irish background, which ties drinking to all important occasions--be it "Finnegan's Wake" or simply a moment of appreciation for "Whiskey in the Jar."
Holidays are special because they do not happen every day. A nonstop revelry soon loses its meaning. We do not celebrate simply to enjoy ourselves, like the followers of Bacchus. We do it to appreciate the richer meaning of the holiday, to acknowledge its importance in our lives.
John Henry Newman (alas an English, not Irish, sage) wrote, "None rejoice in Easter-tide less than those who have not grieved in Lent. This is what is seen in the world at large. To them, one season is the same as another, and they take no account of any. Feast-day and fast-day, holy tide and other tide, are one and the same to them. Hence they do not realize the next world at all." Forgetting the admonition in Ecclesiastes that there is a season for everything, much of the world strives to carry on in either perpetual penance or endless enjoyment. It is as if one were to spend all of his time either awake or asleep. Yes, being awake is more fun, but you've got to sleep for it to be so.
TODAY I'll spend some time at the Irish Channel, in Washington, a place where the "rebel songs" sing of a culture proud yet wistful of its heritage and where the conversation is enriched by Guinness and whiskey. Throughout the world many others will do the same. After all, Irishness--or maybe just Irish beer--seems to be truly catholic: The best Guinness I ever had was at a joint called Father O'Malley's on the southern coast of Spain, which reinforces the plain fact that every respectable city in the world has an Irish pub.
And with any luck, perhaps tomorrow some people will encounter the deeper meaning of the holiday that honors a man who brought hope to a barbaric island. For surely there is something to the fact that we celebrate this day in the midst of Lent, a season of self-denial. Christians are offered a break from this time of seriousness to toast St. Patrick and others like him, past and present, who stand and fight for what is true and good so that we can enjoy life, able to hope for what is to come.