Unless you’re living under a rock, you no doubt know that today is St. Patrick’s Day, a national day in Ireland and a drinking day here in the United States of Alcohol, where almost every holiday has been stripped of whatever meaning it originally had and has been turned into a marketing opportunity for Hallmark cards and every other company that can tie its products into the holiday. This is especially true for the big alcohol companies, who rarely miss an opportunity to turn ready-made social functions where alcohol may or may not have played a traditional role into events that are almost solely about alcohol. Yes, that’s right, I’m a curmudgeon. And not just ’cause I’m old now. I’ve always been a curmudgeon. When I was a kid it was precocious, as a young adult I was merely annoying, but now my curmudgeonly ways are finally hitting their groove. Old people are expected to be cranky, but I’ve long perfected the art so I’ve had a grand head start. Lucky me.
So back to today. I have nothing against alcohol and holidays pleasantly mixing. Most require a drink just to tolerate the relatives. Alcohol is best when it’s a shared experience. That’s not it at all. What bugs me about the way holidays are marketed is that idea that they’re all about fun, nothing but fun, and nothing but alcohol, troughs and troughs of it. Halloween used to be for kids, now it’s the number one keg sales weekend of the year. And St. Patrick’s Day has to be one of the worst. We took the Irish predisposition for enjoying a drink now and again, and turned it into green beer day with everyone expected to drink until they vomit and the street runs green with it. In Ireland, it was originally a religious holiday celebrated with family dinners, akin to our Thanksgiving, but even there it’s become a big tourist industry with American-style partying in Dublin. So I tend to stay in on most of the big drinking holidays, preferring to drink modestly all the other nights of the year and leave the holidays for the rest of society to binge like they’ve been told to do. I guess all that spending is good for the economy, so who am I to complain. Just keep me the hell away from it. Tomorrow it will all be over and things can get back to normal drinking again. So this week, I thought I’d tackle the things that annoy me most about St. Patrick’s Day, given my disdain for the way its celebrated in America. Anyway, here’s List #10:
Top 10 Annoyances Of St. Patrick’s Day
|Kelly Green Don’t get me wrong, green is a terrific color. It’s the color of hops. There are few sights more beautiful than a hopyard at harvest time. But Kelly green has to be one of the most garish and ugly expressions of green to ever get its own Pantone number. A little goes a long way and a lot, like the average St. Patrick’s Day party and my eyes start to hurt. And more curiously, blue was the color most associated with St. Patrick’s Day, until the “wearing of the green” took over, though originally it meant to wear a shamrock, before mutating into its present meaning of wearing all green.
|Leprechauns Am I the only one a little creeped out by these “little people” who hoard gold, hide at the end of rainbows, and then wonder why everybody’s after them? Miniature old men with a love of shoes is not exactly my idea of cute and cuddly. In some mythologies, they’re demons who appear only every thousand years. Lucky charms, indeed.
|What About All the Other Ethic Groups? I have absolutely nothing against the Irish or even Irish-Americans. Some of my best friends are Irish. I’d even let my daughter marry one … someday, not now; she’s only four. But all — alright, some — kidding aside, why did this one particular ethnicity get a major holiday and not the dozens of other immigrant groups who came to our shores as huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. Why isn’t Casmir Pulaski Day (it celebrates Polish-Americans) or St. George’s Day (the English) as big a holiday here. For that matter, virtually every hyphenated American has a day on which they celebrate their origins, why isn’t our general calendar rife with them? I know politics is essentially the answer to why it became a big holiday, but why haven’t we moved past such out-dated thinking? Either we celebrate all our diversity or none, anything else seems patently unfair.
|That Music … I’m sure this is just me, and I can’t even remember the name of the song. When I was stationed in New York City, during the days surrounding St. Patrick’s Day, the Army Band I played in was called on to play at least a gazillion neighborhood St. Patrick’s Day parades, often two, three or four in a single day. And almost the whole time we’d play one single piece of music, over and over again. It was so bad, for me at least, that I’ve blocked it out and can’t even remember the name of it, but you’d know it immediately upon hearing it as a St. Patrick’s Day song. It’s not Danny Boy, it’s not the Washer Woman, though it’s at least somewhat similar to that. If anybody thinks they know this annoying song, keep it to yourself. No, I’m kidding. I do want to know what it is. It’s driving me fairly mad, actually, that I can’t come up with the name and so far no amount of searching has yielded the answer.
|Parades After reading the last one, you already know how I feel about the parade music, but I’m no fan of St. Patrick’s Day parades, either. They’re not Irish at all, they’re an American invention. According to Wikipedia, “the world’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston in 1761, organized by the Charitable Society. The first recorded parade was New York City’s celebration which began on 18 March 1762 when Irish soldiers in the English military marched through the city with their music.” I’m not sure what the distinction is there, but that’s what it says. Either way, it was not a step forward in my opinion. And I like parades. I marched in more parades than almost anybody I know, from high school marching band, the Army Band, and the Wyomissing Band, a community band I spent summers with from age fourteen until I joined the Army. But St. Patrick’s Day parades just bug me. There’s no diversity, just a steady stream of green, with people marching for no better reason than the accident of their birth into one group instead of another. Oh, and you’ll find more obnoxious drunks at the average St. Patrick’s Day parade than any other I can think of.
|Guinness & Other Dry Irish Stouts Guinness was a bridge beer for me, one of the ones that began my lifelong interest in better beer. So I have a special place for it in my heart. Unfortunately, Diageo doesn’t have the same reverence for it that I once did. There at least eleven different Guinness formulas being made around the world. But it’s hard to take any beer company seriously that takes an iconic brand and test markets Guinness Red and releases an “Extra Cold” version. Murphy’s, unfortunately, isn’t much better now that Heineken owns the Cork brewery. Beamish, also from Cork, was owned by Canadian Carling, but after the Scottish & Newcastle breakup, it will soon be owned by Heineken, too. But that aside, there are some fine Irish stouts being made here in the states. I’m lucky enough to live near one of the best brewers of Irish stouts; Denise Jones of Moylan’s. She makes terrific examples of the style, and has for years, both at Moylan’s and her previous gig at Third Street Aleworks.
|Irish Beer Beyond the stouts, there’s precious little diversity to celebrate in Irish Beer. Harp is no great shakes, at least in my opinion, and apart from a few red or amber ales, there’s not much more that Ireland is traditionally known for. It’s my understanding that there are a few small Irish craft breweries making some good beer, but they’re obviously not too widespread yet, plus I’ve not yet had the pleasure to try any of them.
|You’re NOT Irish They say that on St. Patrick’s Day, everybody is a little Irish. Hogwash, I say. The people who buy into this are not pretending to be Irish, they’re trying to get drunk and get laid, usually both. That’s the extent of most revelers “Irish-ness.” It’s frankly embarrassing to watch this ritual play out in bar after bar every March 17. I’ve got nothing against anyone who wants a one night stand, if that’s your thing, go for it. There’s not nearly enough love in the world, even the fake kind expressed in the drunken hook-up. But using a holiday as your excuse seems even more pathetic than the usual rationalizations.
|Green Beer How this disgusting practice began is anyone’s guess. What I find particularly ironic about this is that the reason green is associated with Ireland has to do with the natural beauty of the Emerald Isle. So to celebrate that by adding a chemical dye into the Chicago River along with kegs of beer seems unnatural at best. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to adulterate the beautiful range of beer color with a putrid green.
I don’t know if it’s related at all, but the students at the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio have been celebrating Green Beer Day since 1952. They even have their own website for Green Beer Day, though primarily to sell tchotchkes.
|Bad Drunks I guess some people believe that acting Irish involves getting and/or being drunk. That Ireland is associated with drinking I won’t debate, certainly not among the writing class. But the way this plays out in bars, parade routes and blocked-off streets throughout America is some of the worst drunken examples of humanity that I’ve ever seen. All it does is provide ammunition for the New Drys to point at and use against responsible drinkers and try to further their agenda of a new prohibition. I’m a big fan of moderation and quite frankly St. Patrick’s Day is one of the most immoderate holidays of all. And I understand that all things in moderation includes moderation, too, meaning sometimes going crazy is not only okay, but downright necessary. But that should be an individual decision and made for personal reasons. It should not include just using a holiday as an excuse for binge drinking.
Also, if you have any ideas for future Top 10 lists you’d like to see, drop me a line.