I’ve always been grateful to St. Patrick – and to the nurses at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. That’s because I know what name my parents were considering for the newborn me. A pretty name except when uttered in a bad New York/New Jersey accent. But the nurses convinced my parents otherwise. “It’s St. Patrick’s Day! You can’t possibly name her anything but Patricia,” they said. And that’s why a half-Italian, half-Midwestern American Melting Pot baby got named for the patron saint of Ireland.
St. Patrick’s Day is not as big a deal here in Los Angeles as it traditionally has been in New York. Oh, you can find restaurants serving corned beef and cabbage and bars selling green beer. There are parties and public gatherings including one on the Queen Mary but no parade, save for the one in Hermosa Beach 22 miles from downtown. And one LA pub is opening its doors at 6 a.m. so I suppose there will be sightings of inebriated celebrants sporting “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” buttons. New York’s new mayor, Bill De Blasio (whose Italian last name is not the one he started out with) is boycotting the New York parade this year because organized gay and lesbian groups are excluded. Cities across the country mark the occasion with parades but New York’s is the oldest, dating to Revolutionary War times, and the largest with 200,000 participants and three million spectators. The top of the Empire State Building is traditionally bathed in green light. Elsewhere, the Chicago River is dyed green, as is the north White House fountain.
St. Patrick was not actually Irish, although he spent most of his life in Ireland. And he did not rid the country of snakes because Ireland never had snakes to begin with. Also, unlike other holidays that commemorate a famous person’s date of birth, March 17 is the day in 461 that Patrick died. Those and a lot of other fun facts can be found at history.com.
My husband Ed was born on Columbus Day – the official date, not the floating one established by Congress in 1968 (along with Memorial Day, Veterans Day and President’s Day) to provide more three-day holiday weekends. So I asked his mother one day why she hadn’t named him Christopher. “Why would I do that?” she asked, puzzled. No intervening nurses there, I guess. But it’s probably just as well since Columbus Day has become controversial as some of Columbus’s actions have been learned. It seems he returned to Spain with native people as slaves, and of course we now know his discovery ushered in a shameful period of discrimination and decimation of native people here and in Latin America.
Several communities have replaced Columbus Day with alternative days of remembrance. These include Indigenous People’s Day in Berkeley, as well as South Dakota’s Native American Day and Hawaii’s Discoverer’s Day commemorating the arrival of Polynesian settlers. But Columbus Day is also significant for Italian-Americans in places like New York which still has a Columbus Day parade. Wonder how the mayor with the adopted Italian name will handle that one when the time comes.
Maybe what we need in these dispirited times is more parades – and more three-day weekends.