March 14, 2008

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day: Symbolic Ethnicity

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

clip_image002I’m seeing green! St. Patrick’s green, that is. Everywhere. At the grocery store. At Wal-Mart. At the mall. At my gym. Surely you’ve seen the decorations and a variety of green products such as carnations, bagels, greeting cards, frosted cupcakes, and in Chicago the even the Chicago River!

My introduction to St. Paddy’s day came when I lived in New York City; fitting because New York is home to the first of these parades anywhere, and hosts the largest Irish parade with up to 3 million onlookers. Irish soldiers began the parade in New York in 1762 and it has grown to include more than 150,000 people from a variety of Irish organizations. It is the largest parade in New York, even bigger than the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. 

Is there a parade in your city? Chicago, Boston, and Savannah, along with a variety of other cities around the world have St. Patrick’s Day parades. In the U.S. St. Patrick’s Day is a religious holiday celebrated for centuries by the Irish on March 17th during Lent. Although the details about his early life differ, Patrick is saidMmj017247700001_3   to have died on March 17, 460 A.D., and most scholars agree that he introduced Christianity to Ireland. Traditionally, Irish families’ St. Patrick Day’s celebration involved attending church in the morning and then—with the restriction against eating meat lifted for the occasion—feast on bacon and cabbage in the evening. The focus on St. Patrick’s Day as a religious holiday in Ireland has remained that way until recently; it was only in the 1970s that pubs were allowed to remain open on this day.clip_image004

Why do Irish Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? This celebration is an example of symbolic ethnicity, characterized by a need to hold on to the culture of the immigrant generation, coupled with a pragmatic desire not to let this culture interfere with everyday life. The “old” culture is converted into ethnic symbols that must be simple enough to be shared by many people and easily understood. Many whites in the U.S. who maintain ethnic identities only do so in symbolic ways that take little time and minimally affect their everyday lives. Ethnicity, then, becomes highly individualized and expressive, although it has little or no impact on day-to-day living. Their ethnicity is tied to voluntary and arguably superficial events such as dishes cooked and holidays celebrated; for many, St. Patrick’s Day can be understood in this context.

Ag00405__3 Sociologist Mary Waters theorizes that the element of choice available to white ethnics makes symbolic ethnicity appealing. Although their ethnicity does not impact their lives in any crucial ways, Waters argues that it is important to white ethnics because ethnicity combines two important aspects of life. First, ethnicity connotes individuality—a feeling of being special that sets one apart from others. Second, it provides a sense of community, albeit a loosely knit one. This sense of community does not infringe on or restrict personal lives. Attending a St. Patrick’s Day parade, for example, allows Irish Americans to feel a part of the Irish American community but when the parade is over there's no stipulation that their lives have to be guided by Irish tradition or culture.

The traditional Irish focus on the religious aspects of St. Patrick’s Day stands in sharp contrast to the festive American counterpart. Right now, we have a unique opportunity to notice the tensions between the religious and the celebratory aspects of St. Patrick’s Day: This year, Holy Week—the week before Easter that includes Palm Sunday and Good Friday, which memorializes the last week of Jesus’ life—begins on Sunday, March 16th. This means that St. Patrick’s Day falls on Holy Monday. Many church officials in the U.S. have been asking St. Patrick's Day parade organizers not to hold their parade on this day,in deference to Holy Monday. Some cities such as Philadelphia anclip_image007d Milwaukee are having early parades, but the biggest one of them all, the New York parade, and many others will continue as always on March 17—Holy Monday.

Interestingly, St. Patrick’s is celebrated by many Americans who are not Irish. (Almost three quarters (71.8 %) of Americans 18-24 years old will celebrate the day, and although 34.5 million Americans claim to have Irish ancestry, this number clearly does not account for all of those taking party in the celebrations.) This leads to a staggering amount of money spent on the festivities--$3.6 billion according to the National Retail Foundation.

Why do you think so many people with no Irish heritage celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Clearly, the symbols (partying and wearing green) are simple enough to be shared by many people


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It is ironic I came to your blog today through Brad Wright. The ironic part is that I have been doing my own research on this over the past week as I have planned to do some writing on this and may even incorporate some of this discussion into my sermon this weekend.

Nice work and I look forward to reading more.

cool green blog!

Earth,hehehe Symbolic ethnicity" is a term coined by Herbert Gans. It refers to ethnicity that is individualistic in nature and without real social cost for the individual.It just like teaching your kids when you get a gaint tooth brush to brush your teeth make it fun for them. Now what is more fun the dressing up like a little man with a pot of gold. Imbracing the earth.

Symbolic ethnicity is a need to hold on to the culture of the immigrant generation, coupled with a pragmatic desire not to let this culture interfere with everyday life.The Irish people just embraces the earth and celebrates there culture.

Symbolic ethnicity or just folklore that set a group appart? I don't know much on this topic but I do remeber as a child how I always wanted to chase the rainbow to the oth side.

Symbolic ethnicity is celebrating a culture of your ancestors. For example, Irish-Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day. I think it is appealing to all cultures. Most people just celebrate St. Patrick's Day just cause its out of the norm.

Everyone like to celebrate St. Patrick's Day because they can have a reason to throw a party and drink. Its just another excuse to have fun.

Symbolic ethnicity is the need to celebrate the traditions passed dowm to you. Irish-Americans celebrate by wearing green or throwing a party. Symbolic ethnicity appeals to whites because they are provided with the element of choice. I think so many people who don't have any Irish background celebrate it because of the parties.

i think for the Irish people it is a Holiday but for collage kids it is a skip day and a reason to get intoxicated

Symbolic ethnicity is celebrating a culture of your ancestors. Irish-Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Hispanics celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I think it is appealing to all cultures. And every culture has a holiday they celebrate!

Symbolic ethnicity, in essence, is people, specifically white Americans, who feel that they can be a part of something special and feel different. Irish Americans display pride for their ancestry on St. Patrick's Day. Usually everyone else that's not Irish celebrates on St. Patrick's Day because they want to feel special; however, the more practical reason is because it's a day to get wasted.

Symbolic ethnicity is a way for cultures to celebrate in their own way. In doing this, they can celebrate their ancestors and traditions that have been passed down and share it with the world. Irish-Americans celebrate their ethnicity on St. Patricks day by dislaying green anywhere possible. I believe that many Americans celebrate it because they want to be apart of something exciting that they can't seem to find in their own culture.

symbolic ethnicity isa ethnic idenitity that is only relevant on specific occassions and doesnt significantly impacting everyday life is
jus like any other holiday we are a melting pot world taking part in each others traditions is a very good thing that just showes we do cone together at some point and time

Symbolic ethnicity is an ethnic tradition of culture, relevant on special occassions. It is appealing to white ethnicity because it combines two important aspects of life: cannots individuality, and provides sense of community, yet does not infringe on or restrict personal lives. I think that many like the celebrations because they come from various cultures, they may not even know about, and this is a way for them to experience that piece of culture.

Symbolic enthnicity lets people interact and become closer to things that they relate to. Irish Americans go to church in the morning on St.Patrick's Day and have bacon and cabbage for dinner. It connotes individuality and brings a sense of community. I think people with no Irish heritage celebrate St. Patrick's Day is just to have a good time.

St.Patricks day has become not only a Irish holiday, but an Irish American and somewhat of an American holiday as well.Holidays are fun and even if it isn't part of your symbolic culture you maybe interested in it or like the food of St.Patricks day.

there is no reason for me to to celebrate st. patricks day at all, i'm not irish and it doesn't benifit me

St Patrick day is agreat way for Irish American to respect to their culture.Plus its ac nice way to show respect to your irish friends and wear green.

I celebrate St. Patricks day, but it's just another day to me. I can understand how it can be special to those who are of Irish decent but there is no reason for me to be crunk when i wake up just because it's St. Patricks Day. However, I understand how the holiday is representative of Symbolic ethnicity because of how people who do have a reason to celebrate on that day would be brought closer together.

Symbolic ethnicity is the tradition passed down from past cultures and people try to stay true to the traditions of their ancestors. Irish-Americans display this by celebrating St Patricks Day. It is appealing to other people because of what it is celebrated for and the symbols are simple enough to be shared by many people. Some people, I think, just celebrate St Patricks Day to be festive and have no idea what the holiday is about, as with most holidays.

People with no Irish heritage celebrate St. Patricks day because of the way it is portrayed.

Symbolic ethnicity is basically identifying with a particular ethnic group for certain things without it affecting your everyday life. Irish-Americans display this by celebrating parts of their culture during this time that are not celebrated at any other time throughout the year. Symbolic ethnicity appeals to people for the same reason that halloween appeals to people. It is another way for some businesses to make money and it gives people something festive to do. St. Patrick's Day is a fun part of culture.

St. patricks days is a day to reflect and honor the heritage of Irish Americans. Its a day unique to this country because it allows us to remember a group of people who helped to make this nation what it is today.

St. Patrick's Day gives Irish-American or any other American for that matter, to celebrate their heritage. It does make a certain ethnic group feel grateful for what their heritage represents. We all like to feel like we belong to something worthwhile and that includes our ancestry.

Irish families celebrate St. Patrick Day’s by attending church in the morning and then—with the restriction against eating meat lifted for the occasion—feast on bacon and cabbage in the evening. Symbolic ethnicity is appealing to white ethnics because it provides a sense of individuality and community. Celebrating St. Patricks Day lets us step outside of our culture and also wear green!

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