Growing up in my home, there were three absolutes if you were a young male:
• You were going to play sports;
• You were going to lose your hair;
• You were going to have an appreciation for the Irish culture.
I differentiate between the genders only for the category of hair-loss inevitability. Sports and the drowing-in-Irish-culture thingy were just clouds that consistently hung in the air, and no pretense of disinterest would keep you from absorbing information through your pores.
If we weren’t hearing stories of castles on my mother’s side and tales of general pig-thievery on my father’s, we were hearing about Brooks Robinson leading the Easter Uprising or the Cliffs of Moher hosting an exhibition tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King.
Or something like that. I did manage to tune out from time to time.
Regardless, taking pride in our Irish heritage was just something that was celebrated in our home. Don’t get me wrong — we were flag-waving patriots of this country, first and foremost. But we also honored the place our ancestors called home, and wore that bloodline like badges of honor.
That, or my parents were just putting on a year-round display of ancestral pride to justify their reckless and juvenile behavior on St. Patrick’s Day. I haven’t really pinned that down yet, in the interests of full disclosure.
Yeah, you know, I’m not even sure why I included my saintly mother in that last part. It was my father who I remember coming home from “work” on St. Patrick’s Day with a shamrock stuck to his forehead and a little extra swagger in his step as he pinballed his way down the hallway. Of course, any swagger in my father’s step was more swagger than had ever...
But I digress.
So, to recap, we were very proud of both our American and Irish cultures. We played and watched a lot of sports. And McCann men have little hair and even less swagger. We caught up now? Good.
I’m writing this column today because of the proximity to St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that held nearly as much meaning in my life growing up as any other. There were the religious ramifications of the day, especially considering my Catholic upbringing, and the profound impact St. Patrick had in spreading the religion throughout the Irish region. There were also the celebratory vibes that just happen around St. Patrick’s Day, and perhaps the aspect that I did and still today enjoy the most is the nationalistic pride in all things Irish that surround the holiday.
To me, it was cool that everyone got in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day each year. I actually remember asking my mother once why people who weren’t Irish at all chose to wear green clothes and garish buttons and hats on St. Patrick’s Day.
“Because we welcome everybody,” she explained. “It’s a day that doesn’t come with any hate or division.”
So, that’s how I remember her statement, at least. There’s a chance it came out as, “Why do you ask so many stupid questions all the time,” but the message I took from that was that everyone celebrated because, in its own way, St. Patrick’s Day is a day of peace and unity.
I’ve always preferred to hear things the way I wanted to hear them. Still do. A reporter said to me the other day, “I’m not sure we’re going to get this story done before deadline.” What I heard was, “Story’s coming along just fine, and you look like you’ve lost a lot of weight.”
My life is happier with selective hearing. I promise. Give it a shot sometime.
Regardless, it was that enthusiasm for the Irish culture from the entire population that excited me the most as a kid, and continues to do so today. I love seeing people of different heritages embrace all things Irish, if even for a day, and I’ve learned to be a little less grumpy about some of the more “Americanized” adaptations of St. Patrick’s Day, including the wearing of the green, the dyed beer and the corned beef and cabbage.
In fact, these newer traditions in our newer world kind of make the whole holiday better, as it has turned into an American St. Patrick’s Day tradition in this nation. After all, we are a nation bourne of cultures coming together in the metaphorical “melting pot” that we all read about as children, and perhaps there is no single day that encapsulates that philosophy like the one that has people of different heritages, beliefs and backgrounds all coming together in celebration.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all. Erin go bragh!