History shows us that the Irish are nothing if not resilient, and the broader community needs that example of resiliency now more than ever. 

Those of us of a certain age will remember a holiday children’s special “The Year Without Santa Clause,” a story about Santa, who has come down with a cold, and believing that no one cares about him anymore decides to cancel Christmas.  As could be predicted in a holiday special, the children of the world convince Santa he is still cared for, he is miraculously cured, and Chrismas is saved.

The story comes to mind as another virus, Coronavirus COVID-19, has many believing we are facing in 2020 “The Year Without St. Patrick’s Day” as St. Patrick’s Day parades and events around the nation are being canceled. Even the venerable NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade will not march down 5th Avenue for the first time in 258 years. The NYC parade predates the formation of the United States as a country and Dublin’s parade by more than a century and a half. The NYC parade has continued on despite a Revolution, a Civil War, Economic Depressions, two World Wars, and 9/11.  

The safety of people and their lives must take the first precedence; the health of the general public can not be sacrificed for the maintenance of tradition, no matter how sad a pill that is to swallow. Yet, given what the parade has persisted through, its cancellation cannot help but cause anxiety.

The NYC St. Patrick's Day parade c. 1960

The NYC St. Patrick's Day parade c. 1960

Yet the impact of the cancellation of St. Patrick’s Day activities should not be understated or treated as lightly as the postponement of a backyard barbecue.   Many small businesses, and specifically those owned by Irish Americans, rely on St. Patrick’s Day the way other businesses rely upon on “Black Friday.”  Many of these businesses are already under duress and may not survive canceled parades even if they are rescheduled.  Sadly, many communities will realize, perhaps for the first time, how significant St. Patrick’s Day is to the broader community. Traditional musicians, pipe bands, and Irish dance schools often use the monies raised from St. Patrick’s day performances to “keep the tradition alive” throughout the year. Parades often publicly honor individuals who have quietly served their communities for years and it is often the first public recognition they have received.  

However, we should not confuse the cancellation of parades with the cancellation of St. Patrick’s Day.  We need the real St. Patrick’s Day, not the facepaint, funny hats, and tasteless t-shirts, more than ever.  What better example for a world in crisis than St. Patrick?  A man captured and forced into slavery as a youth, as the society he knew was collapsing into the dark ages, and taken to a land that was literally “off the map” of the known world.  Yet, he persisted, survived, and turned a tiny remote island on the fringe of Europe into a bastion for the last flickering light of civilization that the Irish he inspired would return to the world.  

History shows us that the Irish are nothing if not resilient, and the broader community needs that example of resiliency now more than ever.  The Irish have persisted despite the penal laws, famine, and the Know-Nothings. We have seen our churches burned, and our loyalty questioned. The Irish have frozen at Vally Forge, the Bulge, and Chosin; they have sweated at Gettysburg, Okinawa, Viet Nam, and Afghanistan. It would be a tragedy if this St. Patrick’s Day America were to forget the thousands of Irish who will wear their green on that day on their graves in service to America.

Amidst so much fear and uncertainty in the world, let us use St. Patrick’s Day as an inspiration and remind the world that despite incredible odds that the Irish are still here in contradiction to all logic. Let us wear our green, fly our flags, and show our resolve. Let us support our communities in these trying times; perhaps, if we are able, by going to where we would customarily celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and buying a gift certificate to use when normalcy returns to help that business survive. Let’s use that time we would be at the parade that is now canceled to call that relative or friend that we haven’t spoken to in a while who is now socially isolated.

It is fitting that in Irish American Heritage Month and at this trying time that we remember the motto of the Sullivan Brothers, “We stick together,” a quintessentially  Irish value. Amidst the bagpipe free silence of this St. Patrick’s day, let us show our communities what it truly means to be Irish.  If “everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s day,” then we will all come back from these unprecedented events stronger than ever.

The Irish flag at a St. Patrick's Day paradeGetty