The Problem with St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day: the day when suddenly thousands of people run around with a beer in each hand, all claiming to have Irish roots. It would seem Montana has a high percentage of Irish folk, if you count all of the people that were claiming to be Irish this past weekend. The real question is why such a large number of people are so proud of their “Irish roots” for one day of the year. Many of these people don’t even know the history of the holiday, let alone its original meaning or why they associate St. Patrick’s Day with alcohol in the first place.

St. Patrick’s Day was originally meant to be a celebration of Saint Patrick’s role in bringing Christianity to Ireland. It celebrated the dawn of a new age in Ireland as Christian beliefs and morals replaced what would later be considered “evil” Pagan practices. Before the seventies, St. Patrick’s Day was a minor holiday even in Ireland, where it used to consist of nothing more than a feast with a few words of acknowledgment by a priest. Although in America it is not considered a legal holiday, it is widely celebrated throughout all 50 states. However, the word “celebrate” is not altogether accurate considering celebration of the holiday has been mostly diluted to binge drinking and feasting while wearing a green article of clothing.

The presence of alcohol in the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day stems from the lifting of Lenten restrictions on drinking alcohol during the holiday. However, there is a vast difference between being “allowed” to drink alcohol and getting totally smashed. The holiday became popular in America for two reasons: the influence of Irish-Americans in cities like Boston and New York, and the incredible business opportunity that can only be offered by an event that somehow combines massive amounts of alcohol with tacky green clothing.According to Dr. Philip Freeman, a classics professor at Luther College in Iowa, “The modern celebration of St. Patrick’s Day really has almost nothing to do with the real man.”

However, St. Patrick’s Day isn’t just a conglomeration of intoxicated people, it’s an incredibly lucrative business opportunity for every person in the alcohol and restaurant industries. Blame for the stigma that connects St. Patrick’s Day, Irish culture and alcohol can be pointed at businesses across the United States, from the little Irish-inspired pub in my hometown to the headquarters of the largest alcohol and beer distributors in the nation. The holiday is largely American made. According to Dr. Timothy Meagher, an expert in Irish-American history at Washington, D.C.’s Catholic University, St. Patrick’s Day is “a way to confirm ethnic identity and create bonds of solidarity.” But how can the holiday “confirm ethnic identity” when so many of the people that celebrate it aren’t even Irish? Maybe that was the idea for St. Patrick’s Day in the past, but it definitely is not the reality of St. Patrick’s Day in the present.

The holiday can easily be compared to Valentine’s Day when looking at the two from an economic perspective. In America, both holidays have become excuses for special products like Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day candies, special restaurant menus and events, and above all, a massive spike in nationwide alcohol consumption. Valentine’s Day is to children and candy as St. Patrick’s Day is to adults and alcohol.

In America, St. Patrick’s Day can no longer be considered a “cultural” holiday. It has become nothing more than a financial jackpot for corporate interests, an excuse for businesses to launch massive marketing campaigns in order to make consumers feel obligated to spend more money. Just like Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day has lost all connection with its original meaning. With Christmas there is Black Friday, and with St. Patrick’s Day there is blacking out. In the name of profits, our society has taken St. Patrick’s Day and stripped it of all its original meaning, overly exaggerated the involvement of alcohol and then tacked on millions of forgettable by-products. Who wants to make a toast to that?