Gongol.com Archives: March 2023
Once a year, Americans from all walks of life take a day to celebrate a day made famous by the Irish immigrants who made a particularly large impact on the culture of the country with their arrival in the second half of the 19th Century. For one day, Irish (and particularly Irish-American) culture is celebrated -- with enthusiasm, even if without much authenticity. ■ Perhaps a purist could get uptight about labeling the behavior a form of cultural appropriation, but much of the effect of the day is a consequence of the ways in which Irish immigrants assimilated (incompletely) into American society. ■ But behind the "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" buttons and somewhere beyond the green-tinted beer, the thoughtful observer could pinpoint at least a few legitimate cultural touchstones worth a nod: The celebration of gathering with friends for its own sake (craic), of great storytelling (a tradition from a homeland and a culture that punch far above their weight in the world of literature), and of bringing cheer through song and dance, parades and fundraisers for charitable causes. ■ The Irish tradition gets a second look in America in a way that other cultures don't. Columbus Day has been dealt an uncomfortable reckoning, Oktoberfest is celebrated only sporadically, and there really aren't any widely-acknowledged holidays imported from Russia, Japan, India, South Africa, England, or Egypt. Maybe that's a mistake. ■ No culture gets everything right, but it's also fair to assume that every culture gets at least one or two things right. (That's one of the basic conclusions one naturally reaches if one assumes that at least some traditions survive from generation to generation because they've proven themselves useful each time before being passed along.) ■ A reasonably open-minded person ought to reach the conclusion that there is payoff in studying lots of different cultures to see what good ideas can be gleaned from each. One doesn't have to live by other Danish principles to take a few good lessons from hygge, for instance. ■ Perhaps the lesson to be taken from St. Patrick's Day in America is that it is possible (and probably even prudent) to intellectually tour the cultures of many countries, after having spent at least a couple of years forming adult opinions about how to live -- but before too much of a lifetime has elapsed for one to be comfortable with making changes.