The 17th of March sees a green tide sweep across the pubs of the nation and green tides gush out of the mouths of the lightweights. Beer goggles, shamrock glasses and leprechaun hats were donned and everyone from James Blunt to James Joyce was in the pub singing songs and downing pints to celebrate the “annual Irish festival of drinking”.
Though its no longer really an Irish celebration. Paddy’s gone worldwide. America, for one, have gone huge for Paddy’s day since 1737, when the Irish society in Boston decided to “observe” the holiday by getting gazeboed on the Freedom Trail.
Actually, that’s not true. The Bostonites were respecting the original intention of the holiday; the story of St Patrick bringing Christianity to the Irish. As ever there are a (very) few people offended that this heritage hasn’t been better maintained, and that there are non-Irish people wearing the flag, ignorant about the story of the Saint himself – an instance of the dreaded, oh so subtle force that is ‘cultural appropriation’. While appropriation is an important issue I think those offended are missing the point. St Patrick’s Day has been unabashedly commercialised for a long time.
Today, St Patrick’s is a pub event. It’s an advert; a yearly way to sell booze. The maintenance of the holiday’s popularity is down to commercial forces. Heritage doesn’t sell, but excuses to drink do.
So, much like any holiday, St Patrick’s Day has become a vehicle for doing something fun, and in the process has become mainly detached from any prior significance or meaning. In the same way that Christmas has become about adverts and presents, Easter about chocolate eggs, Holi about paint and flour, Shrove Tuesday about pancakes; St Patrick’s day is all about getting hammered. Similarly national identities are melted, poured and set into marketable, approachable moulds. Irish people are shamrock-loving leprechauns who drink beer and eat potatoes; English people hate talking about sex and love tea; Mexicans wear ponchos and sombreros and are universally moustached. Fictions are created about nations and nationalities for the sake of enjoyment and inclusion. In fact, St Paddy himself has had a history created for him by Irish people making up stories (probably after a few pints) – so even their own patron saint has been assimilated into the machine of appropriation.
In reality, the story of developing culture is often the story of inclusion and assimilation. Paddy himself is guilty, by any Irish fanatic’s own account, of appropriating Christianity to make it palatable to the Irish by including a sun on the Celtic Cross (which he supposedly invented). In a globalised world the details of a culture as rich as Ireland’s typically get blurred, like the respective eyesights of thousands of drunken revelers celebrating a bastardised version of a once-religious holiday.
They mean well. But they also don’t care about the origins of their reason to get drunk.