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Patrick, Lottie, and the Wearing of the GreenPosted Tuesday, March 17, 2009, at 6:48 AM
There are about six calendars around the house and my office, plus the date book in my pocket. All of them list St. Patrick's Day as a "holiday." This is remarkable when you think of it: It is not actually a holiday by any standard used to proclaim a holiday, and there is no other canonized saint of the Catholic Church so honored. Patrick must have been some guy. If you look him up you will find he is something more than a mere man, and something less than his legend would demand.
Celebrating St. Patty's day in America goes back to at least 1862; and has become a very big deal, indeed. It is a day on which everyone wants be "be Irish" for a day -- even some who on every other day hold tenaciously (and visibly) to an African heritage. On St. Patty's Day we are all Irish. But, "We" Irish were not always all that popular. At the time of the great immigration of the 1880s "No Irish Need Apply" was about as common as wearing of the green is today.
There are two self-evident reasons St. Patrick has become such a big deal over the years.
First, the day has become popular because someone figured out a way to make money on it. Nothing makes a prophet more popular than profit. I for one spent a whole $5 on trinkets for our grandchildren -- who probably don't know what the day is about, never heard of Patrick, and don't have a clue whether or not they are Irish.
Second, and a much older reason, it was a day during Lent when the rules of sobriety were relaxed in order to "commemorate" a saint with green beer and corn beef & cabbage. I concede these two delicacies [which have been religiously carried forward by modern American] can lead to really fun things. However, neither beer nor cabbage has ever had a particular appeal to me, nor have I totally grasped the appropriateness thereof in regard to sainthood.
Two things in my life have made St. Patrick's Day one on which I make an effort to be among those guilty of "the wearing of the green."
For one, Irish music has always held great appeal to me. I play a CD once or twice a month all year-round. The range is from the tragic to the sublime, and look forward to the only time of year when Irish music is played for the benefit of those na*ve individuals who think Rock is music.
The main reason for this life-long Protestant honoring a Catholic saint's day is Charlotta Jane Burnett (nee Harrington, 1884-1959), known to one and all as "Lottie". Lottie was my grandmother. She was a grandmother's grandmother with whom I had a strong spiritual connection I cannot here describe. And, she was OLD like grandmothers are supposed to be old -- not young like Kay and I! According to my mother, grandmother was "from" Ireland. I never knew exactly what that meant, was she born there or was it her parents who were from Ireland? It doesn't matter after all these years, although I would hope our grandchildren know of their Irish legacy. For me it is not about Patrick or beer or cabbage or music, it's about giving honor to Lottie and whatever Irish heritage which may have come with her "from" Ireland.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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