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St. Patrick’s Day: An Irish-American perspective on this holiday that spans both cultures.

Just like 31.5 million Americans, I am of Irish descent—that is roughly one out of ten Americans. But unlike many of those 31.5 million Americans, my family has much more immediate ties to the Emerald Isle (Ireland); both of my Dad’s parents were born in Ireland in the 1920s before coming to the United States in the 1960s where they met and then got married. Because of my grandparents, I possess both U.S. and Irish citizenship. As one can imagine, St. Patrick’s Day has always been celebrated with my family for as long as I can remember. 

St. Patrick’s Day is both a feast day to commemorate the death of St. Patrick who Christianized Ireland and also a secular holiday. In the United States, the day takes on the form of a celebration with drinking and celebrating Irish culture such as music and dance while in Ireland traditionally the day would include attending Mass before later in the day feasting and celebrating

The first St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the United States were organized by Irish immigrants. The mass parades that we see today began in the mid-19th century after the arrival of around one million immigrants as a result of the mass starvation of the An Gorta Mor (the Great Potato Famine) caused by potato crops being blighted and the British policy of exporting Irish crops. It was a time when the Irish could show their political strength and celebrate their culture when they were despised by many Americans.

Growing up, my Dad always told me that on St. Patrick’s Day “everyone’s a little bit Irish.” It is a day for everyone in the country to celebrate Irish culture. My family celebrated it mainly in the traditional American way. We did not go to church, as my family is not catholic. We would have breakfast including black and white pudding. Only the black pudding is made with animal blood; they are much closer to scrapple than what one would consider as pudding. My family would also have Irish bacon, which is closer to Canadian bacon than American bacon. Later in the day, my family makes scones and Irish soda bread to have with tea as we sit as a family. Commonly, my Dad will share stories about his parents and their childhood. Both of my paternal grandparents were born in the early days of an independent Ireland only a few short years after the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War when Ireland experienced a great amount of change. 

St. Patrick’s is one of my favorite times of the year and provides an opportunity to celebrate Irish culture and heritage. On that day, everyone’s a little bit Irish.

Sources: St. Patrick’s Day: Origins, Meaning & Celebrations – HISTORY – HISTORY, How St. Patrick’s Day Was Made in America – HISTORY, Happy St. Patrick’s Day to the One Out of 10 Americans Who Claim Irish Ancestry (census.gov)

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