Americans love any excuse to play dress-up-and-party, and today’s the day everyone wears green. Yes, it’s St. Patrick’s Day in America, which means everyone claims Irish ancestry, wears silly shamrock hats and ties, and goes around butchering the pronunciation of Éirinn go Brách.
It seemed absurd to me at first — most of these people could barely find Éire on a map — but there’s a bit more to it than that.
Odds are, particularly if you live in a big city, that a good chunk of the people you meet have one or more grand- or great-grandparents who hailed from the Emerald Isle. It’s one of the most common ethnic ancestries of all Americans, just behind German and African. Philadelphia has the second-largest Irish-descended population at 13% of residents (Boston is first at 15.8%). And, for the 34.5 million Americans who claim some Irish ancestry, there’s often a tale of bitter hardship involved, along with overcoming incredible odds, and a sheer determination to succeed. I think that’s a large part of the reason why everyone here seems to embrace St. Patrick’s Day — the story of the Irish is a quintessentially American one.
You could spend the day grumbling that this is an appalling pastiche of a noble people, that the emphasis on booze and hijinks plays into the worst cultural stereotypes, and that St. Patrick himself was probably born in England and anyway would likely be appalled at the commercialization of his name. But that would be churlish. Frankly, it’s just way more fun to give in and enjoy the crazy.
Most of what passes for beer in the U.S. is pretty disgusting anyway, so why not drink it green?
Is there anything more bizarrely American — the ultimate cultural mishmash — than a green bagel?
Whoever runs the social media for the Philadelphia police department does seem to enjoy his/her job. And in case you’re wondering, the Shamrock shake is a McDonald’s thing, a limited-time offering every year (proceeds go to the Ronald McDonald charity network). They reportedly taste like a mild vanilla milkshake with a hint of mint. Strangely, I’ve never had the desire to try one.
And the biggest and brashest St. Patrick’s day stunt of all? My vote goes to Chicago, which really does dye the river green every year, on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day.
It started in 1962 when some stunt-inclined pollution-control workers, who habitually used chemical dyes to trace illegal sewage discharges, thought it would be fun to dump 100 pounds of dye into the river. The river stayed green for a week. But everyone agreed this was great fun, and it’s been done ever since — except now they use more environmentally friendly powdered, vegetable-based dye that only makes the river green for a few hours.
So, I’ll drink the god-awful beer, laugh at the variety of green foods and clothes, and thoroughly enjoy living in such a gloriously diverse country.