I'm from a big Irish family. One of those third-generation, Irish-Catholic families where everyone is dripping with equal parts guilt and whiskey.
As a child, I knew the fact that we celebrated St. Patrick's Day with a big family meal was unique. In fact, it remains our biggest family get-together of the year. My aunt cooks corned beef and cabbage (which, fun fact, is actually a British import), my mother makes loaves of soda bread, and everyone sits around and gets shit-faced and eats too much. Inevitably someone brings up an ancient grudge. Festivus, this is not. There is no structure to our airing of grievances; there is only liquor to lubricate the yelling. After everyone is done fighting, we eat dessert and do a couple whiskey shots. Somehow, at this point in the evening, everyone is friends again. We all hug and kiss and go our separate ways, often not to see each other again until the next St. Patrick's dinner.
Unique, yes, but I wasn't aware that it was strange. I never thought it was strange that one of my favorite movies as a child was "The Commitments." Side note: If you haven't seen it, make it your St. Patrick's Day resolution to do so. It's a film set in Dublin, and IMDB describes it as "severely profane." With a word count of "fuck" at somewhere around 168, it helps explain why, consequently, I pronounced it "fook" until high school.
It was mortifying, but not strange, that my dad showed up to my middle school concert in a kilt.
It never occurred to me that it was strange that I knew all the words to the song Finnegan's Wake. It's a charming little ditty about a man who gets so drunk, everyone in the town thinks he's dead. They prepare his body for his wake:
Well they rolled him up in a nice clean sheet
And they laid him out upon the bed
With a bottle of whiskey at his feet
And a barrel of porter at his head
When Finnegan wakes up from his drunken sleep, the town abandons the wake and throws a dance party instead. Naturally.
None of this seemed strange to me. Nor does it seem strange to me that my teenage nephew requested Saturday night off from his fast food job because "St. Patrick's Day is my favorite holiday." It's just our thing!
What does seem strange to me is seeing a fresh-faced 21-year-old, wearing a green plastic bowler hat, barfing green beer into the streets. Somehow, aside from the barfing, the whole aesthetic just doesn't match up with my St. Patrick's Day memories. I want to pat him on the back, give him a plate of corned beef and potatoes, and tell him, "Aye, sonny. I remember my first beer. You're going to be OK."
So this year, consider ditching the green beer for a more authentic experience. Get drunk, argue with your family about a long-buried grudge, and then, in that precise state of mind, process your mortality through drunken singing and dancing. Sláinte!
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