Growing up in school as a child I learned well the lesson that March 17 required the wearing of something green. Those who failed to do so were duly punished throughout the day with a pinch from their classmates.
“But, I’m wearing green underwear!” we used to cry in our defence.
“Yeah, right! Let’s see ‘em.”
I don’t know why we pinched each other for not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, we just did. It was like sending hearts on Valentine’s Day, or making turkeys out of coloured paper for Thanksgiving. The “season” was marked with the hanging of green clovers and little men bedecked in green clothes and buckled shoes, wearing impish grins.
I don’t think anyone had the foggiest notion of who St. Patrick was. Talking about his religion or his incredible missionary endeavours was Constitutionally forbidden. He was nothing more than a stupid leprechaun dancing over his pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
St. Patrick’s Day in New Orleans was even more remarkable. Early in our marriage Lisa and I lived there for two years and enjoyed two full cycles of bizarre holiday traditions utterly unique to that city.
Early in the morning on St. Patrick’s Day, with most of the population still a bit hung over from the two week Mardi Gras festival preceding Lent, St. Patrick had his moment in the sun. There was a parade down our street and in addition to the coloured beads and candies thrown from the float, revellers were chucking cabbages and potatoes and other sundry vegetables. The street was littered with their shattered remains and, in good New Orleans style, everyone was drinking. No matter that it was 7 AM; the bars were filled with patrons guzzling green beer.
Women proudly wore T-shirt that said, “Kiss me, I’m Irish.”
Let me drink some more of this green beer and the chore might become a little more palatable. You smell like a cabbage, dear.
Like most things New Orleans, we looked on as curious outsiders, hopelessly (and happily) ignorant of the ancient pagan rites. I’m doubtful that our neighbours knew any more than we did about why things were done the way they were done. When someone hands you a cold green beer at seven in the morning, you don’t ask too many questions.
Last night at dinner it occurred to us that it was March 17th, and yet nothing had happened to mark the day. The children weren’t pinched at school, there were no leprechauns seen or heard from, no parades and sadly, no green beer to start the day with.
I really don’t know why this was the case, I really don’t.