Tons of Americans flock to Ireland every St. Patrick’s Day to experience the holiday in true Irish fashion.
Yet, we’ve all heard the old statement, “St. Patrick’s Day is a bigger deal in America.” I’ve heard it a million times – from the Irish, from Americans, from people who have experienced both, and from people who have never left their own country.
As for me, well, I just couldn’t really see a difference between a St. Patrick’s Day spent in America and one spent in Ireland.
But I decided 2013 was the year to buckle down and pick a side. So I’m going to delve deep to answer the question once and for all:
Who does St. Patrick’s Day better, Ireland or America?
Disclaimer: I know that other countries celebrate the holiday as well, but I made the executive decision that the Showdown would include only the countries in which I had experience with the holiday. And this would, of course, be unfairly judged by the only two cities in said countries that I’d been to for the holiday: St. Louis, Mo., and Galway, Ireland.
Round 1: Attire
I will concede that in general, the people at the parade in Galway looked 75% less ridiculous than the general population watching the parade in St. Louis any year I’ve been. (Would you believe that one of my Irish friends could find only one green item of clothing – a sweatshirt that said “Michigan” on it?) But: though perhaps fewer “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” t-shirts, beads and green spray-painted chests, there were plenty of obnoxious hats to go around.
Of course any sign of a gaudy t-shirt was brushed off by my Irish friends, as surely that just proved the fashion offender was American. To refute, I can only verify that one green-faced man (literally) had a brogue heard by my own ears; alas, the rest went unverified.
Now, when it comes to scoring, I have to say, the downplayed Irish attire deserves the point. The general effect produced by the Galway crowd was, “Aw, cute!” There were little boys in the parade dressed like little old Irish men in sweater vests and those cute hats.
There were even little old Irish men dressed like little old Irish men.
Conversely, the effect produced by my last parade in Dogtown, St. Louis, was the desire to vomit, featuring more than one nearly naked parade-watcher. Having only recently been able to scratch that image out of the depths of my memory, I welcome Ireland’s understated approach.
Ireland: 1; America: 0
Round 2: Food
Americans love to cook up an “Irish” dinner on St. Patrick’s Day. Cabbage and potatoes and corned beef, yum! The Irish, however, don’t seem to have any food tradition associated with the holiday – not even the famed corned beef and cabbage. Why then, you might ask, do Americans claim that Irish meal tradition? I’ll tell you why!
Actually, Ireland exported a lot of corned beef in the 1600’s, but the Irish people couldn’t afford to eat it themselves. Major bummer. So when they began to emigrate, they arrived in America with the idea of corned beef as a luxury. But guess what? Shit was cheap in America!
So those Irish immigrants went hog wild, eating all the corned beef and throwing in some (also cheap) cabbage for a healthy green. Before a hundred years had passed, Irish Americans were known for the dish. After all, shit’s good!
Moral of the Story: When we eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, we’re not strictly celebrating Ireland, we’re celebrating Irish Americans! For this, America gains its first point.
Ireland: 1; America: 1
Round 3: Parades
Did you know the first St. Patrick’s Day parades were in America? The St. Paddy’s Day parade in Ireland is a bit different, comparable to the Fourth of July parade in America. Huh? Keep reading.
The most glaring difference in the American vs. Irish parades was that in a St. Paddy’s parade in America, absolutely everything is Irish-themed. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense in a St. Patrick’s Day parade, right?
Well, in Ireland, since their very existence is Irish-themed, their parades don’t have to be. They’re multicultural (celebrating the Filipino and Polish and a million other communities) and multifaceted (including every single children’s activity that ever existed). Sure, America has Irish dancers, but Ireland sticks everything in its St. Patrick’s Day parades:
My point is this: While the American parades are a celebration of Irish culture as we see it from America – both what we perceive (true or not) and what we experience as descendants of Irish immigrants (see corned beef above), the Irish parades are a celebration of all of modern day Ireland. Which isn’t all that different from modern day America. And the “modern day America” parade is reserved for the Fourth of July, right? And so we come full circle.
So, which is better for St. Patrick’s Day? Neither. They’re both something to see. I had made up my mind to give both countries a point for this round, until some absolute ass of a Galway parade organizer decided to supply not one float but two floats of children with water guns.
For that, sir, you single-handedly lost Ireland this round.
Ireland: 1; America: 2
Note: An Irish friend, after seeing Paddy’s Day parade photos from America on Saturday was shocked. “St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow!” she exclaimed. I had to explain that Americans celebrate the holiday on Saturday, presumably to sleep through the hangover Sunday. Meanwhile, Ireland can celebrate on Sunday, due to #7 below – but don’t you dare jump ahead!
Round 4: Alcohol
Anybody ordering a pint of Guinness in America can rest assured that it will not be nearly as satisfying as the pints of Guinness being pulled across the pond. However, it’s worth noting that on St. Patrick’s Day 2013, my Irish friends were drinking American beer (Blue Moon, BrewDog, etc.), and I was sipping on some Kriek that I found at a fancy bar.
However, the Americans tend to be a little tactless with the drinking. The Dogtown parade in St. Louis, Mo., is a downright shit show. You can’t take a step at the parade without bumping into a drunk person. But in Ireland? In Ireland, I stood in a gaggle of Irish twenty-somethings who relentlessly mocked the Americans across from us, drinking beer in plastic cups with bags full of backup drink. Drinking on St. Patrick’s Day at 11 a.m.? Tacky. Rude. Downright wrong.
Now, that’s not to say that later, those same Irish twenty-somethings weren’t shitfaced. (They were.) Ireland celebrates ole St. Patrick with just as much alcohol as its American cousins. At the end of the day, there will be just as many drunk people in the street. And so, I call this round a tie.
Ireland: 2; America: 3
Round 5: Church
When I was here in 2010, an Irish friend of mine, at the age of 18, told me: “This is the first year I’ll not be going to Church with my family on St. Patrick’s Day.” Another Irish friend proclaimed, “This is the first year I’ll be drinking on St. Patrick’s Day.” And that had nothing to do with the fact that they were newly legal to drink, they’d been drinking for years.
In a Catholic country on a Sunday that’s also the feast day of the country’s patron saint, it makes sense that Mass is a given. America’s faithful couldn’t possibly make up for the hordes of drunk people that won’t make it to the altar on any given Paddy’s Day in the U.S.
And so, the Irish mammies win this round.
Ireland: 3; America: 3
Round 6: Facts
Spoiler alert: Everybody loses here. Teaching the Trinity with shamrocks? Probably not true. Expelling the snakes from Ireland? Also a myth. Hell, an Irish friend of mine actually said, “What? St. Patrick was Welsh?”
C’mon, you guys! St. Patrick’s Day is littered with lies.
Don’t judge my late night TV choice, but I watched an entire documentary on Irish television the sole purpose of which was to prove St. Patrick was no saint. (I meant that figuratively, but in reality, did you know that St. Patrick was never canonized? Truth.)
Some people think Patrick was a heretic. (He supposedly baptized Irishmen but it isn’t clear whether he was certified to do so.) Other people think he was just in it for the money. (On a related note, gold was found in Croagh Patrick, the mountain ole Paddy is famous for climbing. Maybe he was just a gold digger.)
There’s also a long-celebrated connection of St. Patrick to Armagh, but there seems to be no historical connection there. Some historians think it was a political move to get Armagh settled as the center of the Church in Ireland.
Another historian claims St. Patrick went around “preparing” people for the Second Coming – the end of the world. He actually compared him to “Jim Jones in Jonestown.” Talk about creepy. Of course, I don’t claim to know the validity of any of the above. All I know is that Patrick – not Star Trek – is responsible for the famous saying, “where no man has gone before.”
Anyway. If you want to be accurate next Paddy’s Day, you should don a bunch of blue.
I’m too embarrassed for everybody. No points for anyone.
Ireland: 3; America: 3
Round 7: Dedication
Green beer. A green river. You know the tradition of pinching someone if they’re not wearing green? It’s a completely American invention, supposedly dating from eighteenth century Boston. American tourists drinking at the parade even with every Irish eye in the place judging them? I know more than one Irish twenty-something that stayed home to write papers on this drunken holiday. I think green dye wins.
The dedication point could belong to nobody but the U.S. Nobody wants, needs, begs, to be Irish like the Americans. Not even the Irish. And so, I would have given the dedication point to America. If only the Irish didn’t have this final secret weapon.
The bank holiday. The simple fact of the matter is that St. Patrick’s Day is a bank holiday in Ireland. What does that mean? That means that today I have to go to work while the Irish collectively sit back and enjoy a national holiday. Match point.
Ireland: 4; America: 3
So there it is. Ireland wins the St. Patrick’s Day Showdown, but by a mere point! Consider that next time you don a pair of boxers with the words “Patrick was a saint – I ain’t!” plastered on the butt. And please, please, don’t pack them if you decide to spend a St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland!