From my name to my black hair to my pale skin, I'm easily identifiable as Irish-American. And if anyone ever has any doubt, I can strap on my ghillies (Irish dance shoes) and show off my years of step-dance lessons with a spirited slip jig. I'm always proud to be Irish, but on St. Patrick's Day I can be extra about it. Yet in America, the holiday reduces Irishness to excessive drinking and cartoon leprechauns. So I thought I'd share some authentic ways to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with your kids that go beyond the stereotypes. I mean, who has time to dye everything green, right?
St. Patrick's Day is a much bigger deal in the United States than in Ireland, which only recently started to make a big deal of pumping up the revelry to promote tourism. But that actually makes a lot of sense. Over the centuries, Irish people have been forced to leave their homeland due to oppression, famine, and famine caused by oppression in what is known as the Irish diaspora. Since 1700, approximately 10 million Irish-born people have left their home country, settling all around the world but mainly in the United States. This means there are a lot of people who claim Irish heritage floating about.
Now if you're Irish and living in Ireland you can just kind of celebrate your heritage by, like, living there, among other Irish folks. But if you're outside of the country, it makes sense to have a whole to-do of it. So with that in mind, and because stereotypes are for the damn birds, here are some better ways to celebrate St. Patty's Day than simply throwing on a Notre Dame t-shirt and drinking your weight in green beer:
Learn Some Irish Words & Phrases
Often mistakenly referred to as "Gaelic" (which is a language group that includes Irish or refers to a language spoken in Scotland), the native language of Ireland is simply "Irish." And, thanks to English colonial efforts to restrict its use over the centuries, it's endangered according to UNESCO's Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.
Interest in reviving Irish grew in the 20th century alongside Irish nationalist sentiment. In fact, the week of St. Patrick's Day was designated Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Language Week) in 1903 and continues to this day.
It's a really gorgeous language and an important aspect of Irish culture. Go ahead and teach your kids a few things (I learned how to count to 10 in my step dance class). Trust me, it's fun!
Go To A Parade
This actually is a traditional way to celebrate the holiday in Ireland, as well as in the United States. And who doesn't like a parade? Well... OK, I don't. I find them tedious. But other people do, especially the wee ones, and if that's something you enjoy I'm not going to rain on your... well, you know.
Go To Mass
I'm not a church person anymore, so far be it from me to demand religious observance from anyone else. But if you want points for authenticity it is St. Patrick's Day and going to mass is part of the whole thing.
Interestingly, for most of it's thousand-year history, a cool thing about St. Patrick's Day was that it could almost be seen as a "cheat day." You see March 17 generally falls smack-dab in the middle the Catholic observance of Lent, which is a time of self-denial, personal reflection, and lots of restrictions. But on St. Patrick's Day you could do things like eat meat and dance, which you'd usually have to skip until Easter.
Learn Some Irish Folktales
There's so much more to Irish folklore than leprechauns. From the Irish pantheon known as the Tuatha Dé Danann to a wide variety of mermaid-like creatures, from soul-devouring zombies to shape-shifting spirits that grant wishes, Irish folklore is awesome... and often a little bit scary, but in a really fun way.
(A good primer is Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry by William Butler Yeats.)
Learn How To Do A Jig
Here's what I love about the late-'90s Riverdance phenomenon: it exposed the entire world to Ireland's awesome dance traditions. Here's what I don't love about the late-'90s Riverdance phenomenon: it became such a touchstone that every movie between 1997 to 2001 had, like, a required Riverdance joke that led the world to believe that Irish dance was nothing more than mindlessly stomping your feet really fast.
Irish dance is great because it really is a style that has something for every level of dancer. A basic jig or reel is very simple, even for little kids, and can be made fancier and more elaborate as your skill increases. Go ahead and YouTube it! Your kids will love kicking their little legs and hopping around.
Go To A Feis
A feis is an Irish music and cultural festival and, if you look for them, they're abound around St. Patrick's Day. Often, a feis refers to a dance competition (which is fun unto itself) but traditionally they're a bit broader than that.
My childhood was chock-full-o-feiseanna, and I always loved not just the music and dancing but the food and various vendors who would have tables full of Irish books, photography, crafts, sweaters (made from real Irish sheep, of course), and quirky "Proud to be Irish" bumper stickers and pins.
Read Irish Writers
I find a lot of Irish authors tend to get lumped in with English and Scottish ones, but the fact is that Ireland has a distinct and incredibly rich literary tradition going back thousands of years. Of course you don't have to go back to illuminated manuscripts to find something worth your time. (You don't even have to venture back to Wilde and Joyce, though I highly suggest you do.) You can also check out contemporary authors like Emma Donoghue, Colum McCann, Claire Keegan, and Colm Tóibín, just to name a few.
OK, your kid might not be super into a family reading of The Dead, but, like, it's not all about the kids all the time, right?
Listen To Irish Music
Whether you want to pump up a traditional harp solo (the harp is the national instrument of Ireland and was featured on their money before they switched over to the Euro) or maybe rock out to The Cranberries, there's something for everyone when it comes to Irish music. (But, like, especially if you're down with fiddles and concertinas.)
Personally I'm also not against getting into Irish-American acts like Flogging Molly or the Dropkick Murphys. Your kids will love the high energy and lively licks. (And what better way to help them practice their jigs?)
Eat *Real* Irish Food
OK, yes you're going to find a lot of potatoes in Irish cuisine (though, fun fact: potatoes are not native to Ireland and didn't enter the Irish diet until the late 16th century). But there's more to Irish cuisine than this starchy staple. (And corned beef really isn't all that Irish). Hearty, practical, and very comforting, Irish cuisine sticks to your ribs, and many options are kid-friendly, like boxty (basically a potato pancake).
Spread your culinary wings and trying something different, like coddle or (if you're feeling bold) black and white pudding. (Psst: it's not pudding, but it is made with blood!) Or go with something traditional and familiar (and delicious), like soda bread or shepherd's pie.
Fight Irish Stereotypes
I will level with you: here in America, in 2019, no one is being oppressed by Irish stereotypes. But that doesn't mean they aren't sh*tty. Moreover, they keep millions of people from seeing Irish culture and heritage as being rich, resilient, and fascinating.