Converting pagans. Raising the dead. Chasing every last snake out of Ireland. Saint Patrick is known, by history and by legend, for many things, but to Americans he is the patron saint of partying.
Nevertheless, Boston, America’s home to all things Irish, is offering an alternative to the inevitable pub-crawling: the upscale Gaelic Gourmet Week, in which participants can sample cuisine by some of Ireland’s hottest chefs. "There are scores of Irish Americans in Boston—and elsewhere, I’m sure—who have outgrown the rowdy parades and pub crawls," says Michael Quinlin, president of the Boston Irish Tourism Association. And Boston is just one place where city officials feel it may be time for the holiday to grow up a bit.
Welcome to the age of the no-hangover St. Patrick’s Day.
The anniversary of St. Patrick’s death—supposedly March 17, in the year 461—has been observed in the United States since the 1730’s. George Washington even encouraged his Irish-heritage soldiers to commemorate the day. Americans may now make more of the day than the Irish themselves do, yet it’s still on par with Valentine’s Day: a day for celebration, but one on which you can also mail your gas bill.
Some folks are looking to change that. In January, quintessential Irish beer maker Guinness announced that it was lobbying Proposition 3-17 (aye, 3-17), which would make St. Patrick’s Day an official holiday in the United States—just as it is in Ireland, parts of Canada, and the island of Montserrat. "We’ve collected more than 70,000 signatures in the first few weeks since we launched the campaign," says Guinness vice president Christian McMahan. (You can learn more, or sign the petition, at www.guinness.com/us_en/.)
But if a day honoring green beer isn’t for you, there are plenty of alternatives. And ironically, 2008’s festivities make alternatives easier than ever. Since March 17 falls on the Monday of Holy Week, many celebrations are straying from that fast-in-stone day. Many Catholic dioceses across the country have asked their local officials to reschedule the traditional parade, since liturgical rules prohibit saying mass on that particular Monday.
To put it more bluntly, Saint Patrick has been outranked this year. Philadelphia, for instance, is doing its parade on Sunday the 9th, while Savannah’s parade will be on Friday the 14th. Some cities’ festivities end by the 16th.
The bright side?With the parades out of the spotlight, there’s more emphasis on other events that celebrate Irish culture—and that are perhaps more interesting than just pouring green dye into your lager. In Austin, it can mean checking out the hottest contemporary Irish bands. In Savannah, where the population temporarily doubles during St. Patrick’s Day weekend, there are dip-yourself-in-green spa treatments.
In Seattle, the broadening of events has made the holiday more family-friendly too. "We’re definitely more family-oriented," says John Keane, chair of Seattle’s Irish Week, which offers free events like Gaelic lessons and screenings of Irish-made films. "We decided more families could participate in the parade if we had it on the weekend closest to St. Patrick’s Day. We try to discourage the commercial aspect too, which I think ruins a lot of other cities’ festivities."
Tom Murphy, the producer of San Francisco’s Irish Fest, agrees that some alternative events help remind people of the impact that Irish immigrants have had on America. "The media portrays [the parade] as a beer-drinking fest," he says. "And, let’s not deny it, in a lot of ways it is. But there’s a lot of history too."