I have a terrible memory. Too often I have wisps of information I have no clue where it came from, and I’m never quite sure if it’s legitimate or something I simply made up. Then I have to do a whole bunch of research to confirm that little tidbit of perceived knowledge, but that is how I got to learn a lot more than I thought I knew about St Patrick’s Day.
It all started with a faint memory that the traditions we usually associate with St Patrick’s Day (e.g. parades, wearing green, leprechauns and shamrocks) did not originate in Ireland but the United States by homesick Irishmen. And it turns out, I was right!
I was able to confirm a lot of my information in the wonderful book The Wearing of the Green: a history of St. Patrick’s Day by Mike Cronin and Daryl Adair. In here I learned that the first North American St. Patrick’s Day parade was in 1766 in New York City, but celebrations had been taking place in Boston since 1737. I also learned how it evolved from a religious celebration of Ireland’s patron saint to a celebration of the Irish national identity, however commercialized it is now. What struck me the most was how this modern tradition came from homesick Irish people who were either in the British army or had fled their homeland from famine or persecution.
While St Patrick’s Day is joyous day, we can also see its celebrations as a longing for the familiar, for the Irish at least. Leaving your own country to start a life in a new one with a foreign language, foreign customs and foreign foods can be very difficult! And it is no surprise they were homesick. Here are a few books on those who left and miss home:
First Crossing : stories about teen immigrants edited by Donald R Gallo is a collection of stories from a variety of authors who all tell a tale of teens immigrating to the United States and dealing with the difficulties of adapting to a new culture all the while navigating teenage life.
A Step from Heaven by An Na is the story of a young Korean girl and her family who move to California and their struggles to learn a new language and everything else that comes with leaving their country behind.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan is a wordless graphic novel about a man who leaves his family to build a better life for them in another country. The striking images capture the main character’s experiences as he makes his way into a new world.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is Marjane’s own story of growing up in Iran during a time of revolution, leaving and then missing home despite all the issues that were happening there. If you don’t get the chance to read the graphic novel, the animated movie is well worth it!
There are so many people in the world moving from one country to the next and being able to celebrate their culture freely and openly lets them bring a little piece of their home with them.