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With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, people complain that everyone seems to turn Irish for the day—including people who come from backgrounds that are Japanese or Jewish or even Finnish. Part of the reason is the irresistible attraction of a party, of course. Who doesn’t want to be invited to a most excellent party?
But the secondary reason is one we’ve mentioned before when we talked about a white woman pretending to be African-American: we all need to belong. In this diverse society, we sometimes become isolated from one another. We pay more attention to our differences than to our sameness. It’s easy to see what looks like a contrast. Our inner humanity can be almost invisible. We grow lonely.
As family members move distances from one another in pursuit of job opportunities or lose members to age, injury, or disease, they may feel disconnected—like ice floes slowly drifting apart as they melt into the sea. No wonder we find it easy to experience fear or resentment when we see other people traveling in tight groups that share ethnicity, race, or economic background. We resent their togetherness, their belonging. We want to do something to tighten our own connections, and sometimes that means we become defensive or maybe even unkind to people from other groups.
But pretending to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day feels like benign deception. We aren’t really asking those of Irish heritage to accept us into their culture—just to share their green beer for a day. Americans invent a version of Irish culture that can accommodate partygoers of any culture, as long as they want to have fun. Our parades exceed the dimensions of parades in Ireland because the occasion becomes an expression of the inclusion we like to think is the basis of America. We wear green and that’s our ticket to membership for the day. We take the good humor we associate with being Irish and spread it around.
So don’t be shy about joining the fun on St. Patrick’s Day. Although the day is Irish, the sentiment is all-American.