By Alex Berger
“‘Where did you get that hat?’ folks ask me every day. … ‘Tis the hat me dear old father wore upon St. Patrick’s Day.’ Talk about respect, with his head erect, as he marched up old Broadway. ‘There wasn’t a man in line looked half as fine,’ my dear old mother used to say, as my father did in his old-time lid upon St. Patrick’s Day.” – written by Adolph Deutsch and Roger Edens for the 1949 picture “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
That song is a reminder that the religious and festive holiday of St. Patrick’s Day is river-dancing toward us once again. So forget about preparing your income tax, nix that visit to your mother-in-law’s or dentist, and sidebar any involvement in the presidential brouhaha. Instead, immediately practice conjuring up images of shamrocks, leprechauns, shillelaghs (similar to a cudgel) and claddagh rings, and color your every thought green, green and green.
In addition, you must prepare to tell one another, at a moment’s notice and with the proper Irish lilt, this Irish blessing, “May your troubles be less and your blessings be more and nothing but happiness comes through the door.” Gear up to aim this greeting smilingly at everyone you will meet on St. Patrick’s Day, including the tired mail carrier, the grumpy co-worker and the despised next-door neighbor.
Remember, it must be said with warmth, grace and conviction. And follow these infinite instructions immediately — the moment you finish reading this column.
Continue it until you see the clock’s little hand and big hand embracing fondly at the stroke of midnight at the emergence of March 17. If you were to follow these rules to the letter, you would be extolling your Irish heritage if you are Irish, or you would be extolled as an adopted son or daughter of Erin if you happen not to be Irish.
In either event, you then would be eligible to partake in any and all sacred privileges contained in the sacred book of Irish traditions.
“What are the privileges?” you wisely ask.
To start off, the men will finally be able to wear that lime-colored tie given to them by their wives as an expression of their love. The women may unashamedly strut around in the chartreuse dress their Aunt Mitzi gave them on their Sweet 16th. And some people may even be able to walk in those slightly used green sandals that cousin Sidney bought at a sale and donated to them.
There is more. You must also “show the flag” by pinning a “Kiss me, I’m Irish” button on your person, attack with gusto a Gaelic corned beef and cabbage meal and finally flash your Irish spirit by walking proudly behind Mayor Michael Bloomberg as he marches in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Most people who complete the initiation do partake in these activities because it is proven that on St. Patrick’s Day everyone is Irish.
“Why and how did all this begin?” you again wisely ask.
To save time, begin dying your hair green as I give you a short history lesson.
St. Patrick’s Day is one of the oldest holidays observed in the United States, but it is not older than our anointed grand Irishman, former Mayor Ed Koch. It originated centuries ago in Ireland and Irish immigrants carried the holiday to the United States. St. Patrick, strange as it may seem, was not Irish. He was born in Scotland sometime around the year 385 and was the son of a Roman government worker.
At that time, the Roman army was weak, and Scotland was regularly raided by the Irish. In one raid, 16-year-old Patrick was kidnapped and carried off to Ireland as a slave. At a later date, he escaped and eventually returned to Ireland as a missionary.
For 40 years Patrick worked with the Irish, and by the time of his death (461?), he was loved by all. In addition to the Christian faith, Patrick brought Ireland reading, writing (not ‘rithmetic) and the Latin language. Although Patrick did many wonderful things, he did not originate the Irish sweepstakes.
From the fifth through the 10th centuries (the Dark Ages), the Irish, originally taught by Patrick, played a large role in preserving Roman teachings. Following Patrick’s death on March 17, the day became a holiday to celebrate his life.
In later years, Irish-Americans who subsequently immigrated to this country brought with them their customs and the observance of St. Patrick’s Day. In New York and Boston, parades were staged in honor of the saint as early as 1737, and to this day the tradition continues. New York City held its first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 1852.
Incidentally, more than half of the soldiers of the Continental Army who fought the British in our War of Independence were Irish. And did you know there were more Irish who signed the Declaration of Independence than those of any other ancestry?
There were so many Irish in the city of Boston that on March 17, 1776, when the British were evacuating the city, “Boston” was designated as the password of the day for the Americans, and “St. Patrick” as the countersign.
We still honor this grand day with style. Florist shops are filled with green carnations, taverns serve green beer and my favorite snack, snow balls, exchange their coats of pink for ones tinted green.
So at this appropriate time I dedicate to all my “Irish” readers — and that means everyone — another venerable Irish blessing: “May you have warm words on a cold evening. A full moon on a dark night. And a downhill road all the way to your door.”
Gloria and I personally wish that March 17 be a day of sustained happiness and dedication for all. May the luck of the Irish be with you. Have a happy and very green St. Patrick’s Day. Erin go Bragh (which means “Ireland Forever”).
Reach columnist Alex Berger at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 140.