St. Patrick's Day, We Hardly Need Ye

by Ken Briggs

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It's time for St. Patrick's Day to go private. As a public hoo-haa it's lost whatever relevance it had. If churches and community groups carry it on, fine. But let's not continued singling it out as the only ethnic veneration day on the broad civic calendar.

First, the disclaimer. I bow to no one in my gratitude for every bit of worthy character, courage and artistry that has flowed from the riches of Irish culture. Those have been inestimable gifts to me and my society.

However, the practice of celebrating that culture with the customary gusto and chauvinism, at least where those things are manifest, has gone far beyond the need to hail a once downtrodden people who suffered centuries of injustice at the hands of the British. Many other ethnic groups that have suffered similarly and worse have climbed out of their misery to occupy solid places in American life. While there is nothing wrong with extolling the virtues of any group, something untoward has crept into the special attention conferred by St. Patrick's Day.

We are too torn by race, class and ethnicity to risk inciting tensions further by seeming to play favorites. "Difference" doesn't have to imply "better" but human nature inclines it toward that. Though "better" can have an objective basis, it usually doesn't. So let's let it go to help foster that elusive "sense of community" we talk about. It had its place as a remembrance of liberation and an enactment of genuine Irish camaraderie, but the neighborhood watering holes where much of that emerged are disappearing fast and the parades no longer go through Irish precincts of large cities. For the most part, they're in the suburbs.

It also seems to me that our Irish friends aren't any longer attached to the dynamics and emotions that once gave the day relevance. The tale of St. Patrick has been sufficiently de-mystified to render the gallant Christian evangelist something less than a champion of a people mired in paganism. There is indisputably less of the kind of spiritual reverence around these days to shower on any outstanding figure, let alone one blurred by layers of legend. Neither are the joys of drinking so widely promoted in an age of tragic autobiography and 12 Step programs. And the bank of political grievance, while not empty, is depleted to the point where co-existence has become possible and the flag need not be vigorously waved in defiance.

My unscientific sampling of Irish people found almost no excitement or meaning attached to the day. Not to say they wouldn't wear green or feel a streak of justifiable pride that it brings along with it. It's more that the socio-economic success of European Catholics, and the Irish in particular, have weakened the kind of bonding that immigrant strivers longed for and the freedom to be Catholic even though anti-Catholicism was still lurking. Meanwhile, waves of Latino Catholics arrive with no such ties.

What would St. Patrick say? A festive day to all of you to whom it is festive.

St. Patrick's Day, therefore, serves no significant purpose in its present form, except for profits, whether or not gays and lesbians march in the big parades. Keep it where there is real passion for things Irish, where it may still have meaning as something other than superiority, but let it become an ordinary occasion for leveling the playing field.

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