St. Patrick’s Day.

The day that has become synonymous with the Irish and drinking.

It’s an unfair depiction of a culture that has a lot more complexity than the stereotypes will have you believe. The Irish don’t spend their lives eating mashed potatoes, swigging Guiness and Riverdancing you know. Well, most of us……

When you look at the history of the island, it is about as far from the cartoon leprechauns on your cereal box than pretty much anything else.

Unfortunately, the truth is far darker.

We’re talking centuries of poverty, generations lost to starvation, soul crushing hard labor and enslavement under the heavy boot of the British. The vibrant ancient Celtic culture all but obliterated by imperialism, and those who practiced the old ways were burnt in the streets.

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That’s the real Irish story.

So how did it come to be that the Irish are known for drinking and making merry?

You guessed it: The pub.

The Irish pub is a sacred place. Going back generations, the pub was the one place of solace in what were mostly very difficult lives.

After a long day of manual labor, after the harsh realities of the day, time spent at the pub meant a few hours of peace and merriment.

It meant rich music and culture. It meant finding a reason to laugh and smile with your friends. It meant discovering who was man and who was boy, depending on what they were drinking. It meant sharing a pint with your best mate. It meant finding out your sister can drink you under the table, and you’re proud of her for it.

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It was hearing the elders sing songs of the old days, and your uncle tell tall tales of the ancient fairies.

It was your therapy. Your confessional. Your mating ritual. Your entire social and cultural existence.

It was an escape from everything else in the world that was bleak.

It was, in a lot of cases, the only thing worth getting up in the morning for.

You didn’t go to get drunk. You went to live; your connection to the things in life worth living for: family, friends, joy, laughter, culture and, yes, a smooth shot of whiskey.

Somewhere along the line the Catholic feast day for St. Patrick, an Englishman who had little and mostly fabled impact on the island, became a day for celebrating Ireland and its people…

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But for all the wrong reasons.

Celebrating the drinking culture somehow became more important than celebrating its history and the resilience of the people.

Branding and marketing took over the narrative and once again the truth of a nation of people who have overcome enormous hardships began to be swept under the rug.

Stepping out from under the heal of Britain after centuries of being treated as subhuman is now but a footnote.

The remnants of the pagan rituals of celebrating the coming of spring and humans’ connection to the earth fully buried.

Instead, we’re told to put on a green shirt, fake an accent and get completely wasted and somehow that’s supposed to be how we celebrate our heritage.

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Don’t get me wrong. The Irish love to celebrate. We love a good party and, obviously, the pub.

But if you’re going to celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day, at the very least know what you are honoring. Take off the shamrock glasses for a few and pick up one of the thousands of books about Irish history before you start pouring the beer. Before you start “wooooooo!-ing” with your girlfriends, raise your glass to the nation that gave us such treasures as U2, Maureen O’Hara, Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan.

Take a moment between sips of your Shamrock Shake to remember the hardships that were overcome, the journey across the sea by millions of Irish with hope for a brighter future, and the fact that even when things got really bad, they knew how important it is to have friends and family by your side.

This past year, people around the globe have learned how hard it is to be isolated from those you love and to have the deck stacked against you.

So this St. Patrick’s Day, though the pubs might not be open, you can still take a lesson from the Irish: go ahead and responsibly drink and be merry but do it in homage to the struggles behind us, with us and ahead of us.

If it’s safe to do so, go see some friends or family you haven’t seen in a while and be ever more grateful that you can.

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Use the Irish tradition of storytelling to eulogize those who have lost their lives this year.

Put your troubles on the back burner for a few hours and feel what it’s like to laugh — really laugh — with your quarantine pod.

Sing. Dance. Remind yourself what joy feels like.

Now that’s an Irish tradition worth observing.

Marla Hoffman is the managing editor/nights for the Sun Journal. She can be reached at [email protected] 


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