On St. Patrick’s Day, I feel like New York is my city. Every other day, I am an expat, fitting in as just another foreign woman with an accent, but on St. Patrick’s Day, I feel like Manhattan royalty.
The very things I didn’t like about myself as a teen, my red hair and fair skin, now bequeath me a certain status for a day.
For my first seven years after arriving in New York in 1999, I did not wear the color green, ever. I was not going to be one of those people. I was just another European immigrant thriving on the freedom and anonymity that living here bestows. I chose to leave an economically healthy, but socially unprogressive 1990s Ireland.
On St. Patrick’s Day, I watched the parade from more than just a geographic distance. I wondered who were those people wearing the Aran sweaters that were last fashionable in Ireland in the 70s? It was as if I had stepped back in time…
Growing up, St. Patricks Day meant one thing to me – chocolate. It was a one day reprieve from the obligatory Lenten abstinence for every God fearing child in the Republic - or at least in the small village I grew up in. The Easter eggs that lay barely hidden in the sitting room were given an outing on March 17th for us kids to smash the shells open as we grasped chunks of milk chocolate.
It also meant we got to wear shiny, gold, plastic rosettes for the day. This Christmas-like decoration was the sequel to a piece of actual shamrock, taken from the actual land. But as a lover of all things novel that held even a trace of what I construed as progress, (everything store bought passed my test at the time), I loved this bauble.
Every town in Ireland has a parade, and as a dancer I got to perform in our local town's rendition. Dressed up in my embroidered costume with ringlets spiralling from my head, I was hoisted up on the back of a truck to perform my set, as the truck made its way through the main street. A mix of polite cheerers and stagnant onlookers watched the parade on an often rainy Sunday afternoon. The pubs were full and traditional music blared from every direction. Folk bands took over the sports field for a day. It was the 70s after all and new music had gained the ear of younger audiences dressed in the trend of the day, Aran jumpers.
Having gained a greater appreciation of, and connection with, both my own country and this country in the intervening years, these days I smile fondly when I see those sweaters in the parade on Fifth Avenue. But the greatest joy for me is to see the people from vastly different cultures and backgrounds wearing something green in what seems to me a mark of respect for a small country two thousand miles away that they likely have never been to.
I normally avoid midtown and head instead to the 80s. The day seems to often be the first spring-like day of the year, which brings its own lightened mood to the city, and with the addition of the copious amounts of alcohol floating around (sometimes literally), even the air seems to want to party. I might stop off at a Farmer’s Market on my way home to buy something from the actual land that I am walking on. And of course I wear something green.
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore