Having our first event, our kickoff for Irish American Heritage Month we revved up the excitement of the DeMoss Hall Courtyard with live bagpipe music, popcorn and all kinds of green paraphernalia. Other than students being slightly confused asking if it was Saint Patty’s Day, the bagpiper, being loud and clear excited the students to cheer and clap.
While setting up a very curious onlooker approached me with great interest as to what was going on? I responded with the usual enthusiastic, “This is the kick off for Irish American Heritage Month and this was the beginning of three events that would seek to spread awareness, knowledge and skills about March and the Nationally Celebrated Irish American Heritage Month”. In a very pleasant thick Irish accent this student informed me with a smile that he was shocked that we were out there doing something and proceeded to tell me that he was from Dublin, Ireland and was one of two students that he knew of attending Liberty from Ireland. Of course I got excited and began asking him questions to which he had some very interesting and insightful things to say. He said that in Ireland bagpipers and Saint Patty’s Day were a part of everyday life and had very little if any hype and excitement. Americans had started their own much more flamboyant celebrations, originally in Ireland it was a religious holiday, much more somber than the American beer drinking, pub attending, green paraphernalia of the United States. Speaking of Green paraphernalia He laughed at our display and said…”oh my, this is embarrassing” making me feel much less culturally competent in our celebration than I had a few minutes earlier. He had a wonderful spirit but just had to laugh at our attempt to create a celebration out of something that Center4ME much less Americans in general knew much about. At that moment I felt very American and naive to the Irish way of celebrating the life of Saint Patrick.
One of the signature celebrations for Americans is the St. Patrick's Day parade, began not in Ireland but in America! It consisted of Irish soldiers serving in the English army and took place in New York City on March 17, 1762. The parade helped the soldiers connect with their Irish roots and their fellow Irishmen. The New York celebration is the oldest and largest St. Patrick's Day Parade in the world, in 2003 more than 150,000 marchers (bands, military and police groups, county associations, emigrant societies, social and cultural clubs etc.) have participated. Celebrations have launched across the country in similar fashion; parades, Irish music and Irish beer are signature ingredientsof St. Pattys celebrations across America. (http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/holidays/st_patricks_day.htm)
St. Patrick was a fifth-century English (or perhaps Scottish) missionary to Ireland. Scholars agree he is a historical figure and that he converted many of the pagans on the island to Christianity. It has always been customary to celebrate a Saints death with a day of feasting. Saint Patrick’s Day was no different; a feast marked March 17 for hundreds of years in Ireland. So unlike its American counterpart, St. Patrick's Day in Ireland has primarily been more of a religious festival. Until the 1970s, pubs were required by law to close on March 17. However, since 1995 the Irish government has sought to make St. Patrick's Day an opportunity to showcase Ireland and Irish culture to the world. Parades and celebrations have begun to spring up around Ireland similar to America, not nearly celebrated to the same extent or it seems with the same gusto Ireland and Americans remembrance of Saint Patrick differs. Both unique but clearly different, remember to look into the depth of culture as sometimes what we see in America isn’t always a perfect representation of the authentic culture or country.
Amy Baker is from British Columbia, Canada and began her career with Liberty University in June 2008 as an Associate Director her in the Center for Multicultural Enrichment. She is a 2001 alumna of Liberty where she received a Bachelor of Science in Child Psychology and received hers Master of Education in Educational Leadership in 2003 from Northern Arizona University (NAU). She recently married Jason Baker December 10, 2010.
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