This time of year can bring out the curmudgeon in many a person of Irish extraction, and who can blame them? Maybe you don’t cringe when you see pictures of revelers decked out in silly green hats and clutching plastic cups filled with whatever, but I certainly do. Why? Because I know there are people out there who see the same pictures and who mutter to themselves: “see? They never change, do they?”
No doubt about it, but this is difficult time of year for those who believe that Irish-American culture has a lot more to offer besides the joy of binge drinking.
Far too many Irish Americans seem far too eager to confirm every nativist stereotype at this time of year, which is why curmudgeons prefer to go into hibernation, so to speak, every March.
That said, let’s remember that St. Patrick’s Day truly is unlike any other ethnic celebration on the American calendar, and not for the reasons mentioned above.
After all, what other quasi-religious holiday is so ecumenical? What, do you think all those marchers on Fifth Avenue and elsewhere are exclusively Irish Catholics?
What other ethnic celebration is so affectionately embraced by other groups? The parades near my home town in New Jersey reflect the diversity of a great metropolitan region, and not the insularity of a single ethnic group.
That’s why St. Patrick’s Day, whenever it is celebrated during this long season of parades, dinners, and other celebrations, really is different, and why curmudgeons like myself need to see the big picture rather than focus on the little pictures of walking, or stumbling, stereotypes which are so pervasive in the media every March.
For every underage (and not necessarily Irish American) drunk on the Upper East Side on March 17, there are hundreds of well-behaved (and not necessarily Irish American) young people marching in thousands of parades around the country.
For every idiot busted for some minor or major offense during a parade, there are thousands of revelers who might raise a glass or two, but who return home safely without incident, and who take genuine pleasure in celebrating their ancestry and heritage once a year.
Staying positive during the St. Patrick’s season isn’t always easy for some of us, but it’s important that we try, because the season’s positives outnumber the negatives – even when the negatives get outsized and unwanted publicity.
Accentuating the positive may be a lot easier this year, thanks to the organizers of the first “Sober St. Patrick’s Day” celebration to be held in Manhattan on the day of the parade.
The brainchild of television executive William Spencer Reilly, the no-alcohol celebration will feature music, dance, and other entertainment at Regis High School. The Irish Consul General, Noel Kilkenny, is on the committee; so are actress Fionnula Flanagan and the great Malachy McCourt, author of a thousand yarns, some of which may actually be true.
This is precisely the kind of event that has been sorely lacking in New York for, oh, approximately 250 years or so. Yes, ever since that memorable March day in 1762 when Irish-born soldiers in His Majesty’s service first decided to parade around the dusty streets of New York, the feast of St. Patrick has been awaiting some kind of celebration that puts culture ahead of the water of life.
Finally, there will be such an event. The sober St. Patrick’s Day celebration will feature celebrities and musicians and dancers and entertainers and consular officials so what’s not to like?
Curmudgeons of the metropolitan area, your enforced hibernation may now come to an end. There is a place for you after all, and that place is Regis High School on March 17 beginning at 3 p.m. It’ll cost you twelve bucks, but it’ll be the best twelve bucks you’ve ever spent on St. Patrick’s Day.
I don’t mean to diminish any of the other celebrations that will mark the occasion in and around New York or beyond. Lots of top-flight musicians and entertainers will give mighty performances in more-typical venues, where they will share the spotlight with the likes of John Power, John Jameson, and Arthur Guinness. They’ll be great, no doubt. (The entertainers, that is.)
But this experiment in sobriety at Regis High School deserves special support, especially from those who have been heard to mutter to themselves about all the shortcomings of the season. If it’s Irish culture you’re after without the hangover, well, you have an opportunity to support your ideals and have a good craic while you’re at it.
At last, the Irish-American community is doing more than complaining about the awful stereotypes that have marred this season of celebration. The “Sober St. Patrick’s Day” event should be the first step on the road to recovery – the recovery of Irish America’s rich and diverse culture. And without the drinking “jokes.”