Cultural exchange of information

Some facts about St Patrick’s Day in Ireland that American readers might not know:

– St Patrick’s Day may be called Paddy’s Day, but never, ever Patty’s Day. Ever.

– St Patrick’s Day is the national holiday, so it’s a day off school and work for everyone. But it’s also a holy day, because of the Saint bit, so you have to go to Mass. Before Mass you get a little bunch of shamrock, preferably with a clod of earth still attached, and you affix it to your lapel, like a very agricultural corsage. (I don’t know where you get it. From your mother, usually. She gets it from her dealer, over a cup of extra-milky tea and some contraband custard creams. I suppose.)

– If you don’t go to Mass, you miss your chance to sing the hymn of the day, Hail Glorious Saint Patrick, which is wheeled out just once a year, and which you’ve been practising in school all week.

– On Saint Patrick’s Day you have a special dispensation from on high to break Lent. This means that if you’ve given up sweets for the 40 days prior to Easter – within which March 17 always falls – you are allowed to buy a large bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and eat it while watching the parade. If you’ve given up the holy trinity of sweets, crisps, and chocolate, you can have a pack of Tayto as well. And maybe a bag of Milky Moos, but only if you go to the cinema.

– Depending on the weather, you may choose to go home and watch the parade on telly. This is allowed. If you decide to brave the rain/hail/sleet anyway, you will be rewarded with the sight of all the poor Texan majorettes in their short skirts and flesh-coloured tights failing to mask the goosebumps wondering why they came. But, to be honest, you can see that on telly too, so I’m not sure what the point is, except to feel like you earned your Dairy Milk. If your fingers aren’t too numb to break off the squares.

– There are no leprechauns. If there are leprechauns on St Patrick’s Day, they are deeply, deeply ironic ones. The Irish are a cynical, sardonic, hard-bitten race, and we know that the only thing at the end of the rainbow is rain, and banks lining their pockets with tax-payers’ money.

Some facts about St Patrick’s Day in America that Irish people might be interested to hear:

– Americans think we eat corned beef and cabbage all the time. I’ve explained numerous times this week that it’s meant to be bacon and cabbage, if we ate it at all, which most of us don’t. Corned beef is the Irish-American substitute because you can’t get the right sort of bacon here.

– If you don’t wear some item of green clothing on the 17th of March, people are allowed to pinch you.

– Americans have shamrocks and four-leafed clovers inextricably mixed up. Because four-leafed clovers are lucky, and shamrocks are Irish, and luck and Irish go together, so… that makes perfect sense.

– On the 16th of March children all over the USA are hard at work making leprechaun traps. The next morning they come downstairs, or go to school, to find that a mischeivous sprite has wreaked a little havoc with the toys or in the kitchen, maybe left a few green footprints, and possibly a peace offering of some green cookies or cupcakes.

I don’t know why Americans find it necessary to give their children imaginary nighttime visitors so often: I’ve already carped about Santa Claus, and the tooth fairy will soon be breathing down our necks, but I didn’t realise till last year that the Easter Bunny was also a real, live, fictional character whose cover I wasn’t meant to blow while parents sowed the lawn with pastel plastic eggs – and now this. I’m a bit appalled. I may be That Parent if this sort of thing is perpetrated next year. (Monkey missed school today due to continuing pinkness of eye.) And I’m a big old curmudgeon, I know.

Happy Day of Greenness. I dressed the children in yellow and pink, and we had red lentil coconut curry for dinner.

14 thoughts on “Cultural exchange of information

  1. JeCaThRe

    I certainly never made a leprechaun trap nor caused one to be made.

    I was a bit appalled frankly by the degree of leprechaun frenzy at the nursery school. I was also amused that many of the children in Bird’s room were sure that the green paint footprints were actually a bear’s, because they’ve been doing Goldilocks and the Three Bears all week. Few of them seemed to be interested in leprechauns.

    (Sure an’ I had soda bread with dinner last night but it was with chicken sausage and green beans and I didn’t lecture anyone about their heritage.)

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  2. (Not) Maud

    Oh good. I’m glad it’s not as ubiquitous as I’d believed. But my cousin’s kids in California did it, and at least one friend’s kids here did it (and the nursery school), so that counts as coast-to-coast, right?

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  3. Anonymous

    Have to comment as anonymous now that you’ve gone public. Good Lord woman !

    I am GUILTY as charged of this: “I don’t know why Americans find it necessary to give their children imaginary nighttime visitors so often.”

    LOVE IT !

    Fabulous post, btw. I’ll bet your “born in Ireland” friends are rolling on the floor laughing at our traditions.

    ~ TSM

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  4. Miranda

    How strange. I have never in my life heard of setting leprechaun traps. Or even doing anything for St Patrick’s other than wearing green. Maybe it is a regional thing.

    So what is the difference between shamrocks and clovers then? 18 months and 2 Paddy’s Days in Cork and I never knew they weren’t the same thing!

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  5. (Not) Maud

    Actually, I wikipedia’d it yesterday and a shamrock is a type of clover. But regular clover has four leaves – therefore to find three is unusual – whereas shamrock always has three.

    TSM, don’t panic. It’s only a subset of my FB list. Most of them knew about it already. And I don’t think any of them overlap with you.

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    1. Maud

      I have to come back and comment on my own comment here because I had this back-to-front. A four-leafed clover (or shamrock, I suppose) is lucky; a three-leafed one is normal.

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  6. DreadPirate

    Miranda, a shamrock is a particular variety of clover (three-leafed old white clover, if you can believe Wikipedia). But it’s much smaller than the traditional clover — the three-leafed head is about 2 or 3 mm wide. And the whole point of it (in re St Patrick’s Day) is that it has three leaves.

    [Though one could be cynical and suggest that standard RC practice implies a fourth leaf for Mary.]

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  7. Miranda

    Ah, there’s your problem. You think St Patrick’s Day is about religion! Well, I have lived in Ireland, and I can tell you what it is about. Drinking. And drinking. And drinking some more. And then singing loud songs with your mates down the pub. At which point, you can’t even see the leaves on the damn thing to count them. But maybe that was just Cork. 😉

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  8. Miranda

    Aw, that is part of the glorious image. Better to be known for happy drunks than for the most ruinous financial policy yet to grace a western European nation.

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  9. Pingback: St Patrick's grump - Awfully Chipper

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