By: Tim Liston
Until I was about eight years old, I truly don’t think I knew there was another heritage besides Irish. My family was Irish, my friends’ families were all Irish and just about everywhere you look in Mt. Greenwood (my childhood neighborhood) there is a shamrock on something. As a young child that meant everyone else must be Irish too, right? As I grew older, I of course realized there are other cultures and ethnic backgrounds – my two best friends by 8th grade were of Italian and Mexican descent – but the Irish influence never went away. Even those two friends felt the need to say they’re of Irish heritage just to fit in with the rest of our pals. Now approaching St. Patrick’s Day, I took a trip down memory lane of my relationship with this wonderful patron saint of ours, and some of the misconceptions I had about the importance of this day. It seems somewhat poignant that I now work here at Old St. Pat’s, and that my Awakenings article happened to land on this Sunday. All growing up, I missed the whole point of why we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. When I was a young kid, it was all about the pageantry – this day meant that we got our face painted and we went to the Southside Irish Parade (free candy!). As I reached my teen years, I thought the whole thing was hokey and I was ‘over it’ – I thought the tradition was dumb (come to think of it, everything was “dumb” when I was a teen). Into college and my early adulthood I thought the day was about putting on a goofy, green hat and partying too much. Now as I look at things much more differently, and as I take stock in what is really important in life, I’ve come to the conclusion of why we celebrate this great day. I may be stating the obvious, but when it comes to celebrating this day there are really only three things on which I now focus. Faith, family and festivities. Let me preface this by saying that I’m in no way implying that this is the “right” way to celebrate. I also think this translates to just about any culture or heritage. Faith I must remind myself that St. Patrick represents the country of Ireland through his commitment to the Catholic faith and his strength as a man trying to spread the good word. He used the simplicity of the shamrock to represent the Trinity, and he helped introduce this faith to so many native Irish whose descendants would come centuries later to America and build churches (like Old St. Pat’s!). We remember this saint because he is directly and indirectly the reason that many of us profess our Catholic faith – this is a day worth celebrating. Family Both of my parents’ families have roots in Ireland, so it was a natural thing to embrace this wonderful culture. More importantly though, my parents stressed the value of connectedness to family – which is not uniquely Irish, but how we express it is unique to our family. I remember my Grandma Patty O’Sullivan (I know, I couldn’t even make up a more Irish name if I tried) telling me of her parents coming to America and explaining to the kids the importance of staying close to your siblings and cousins. That’s something that has stuck with us all into our adult years. St. Patrick’s Day in the Liston and O’Sullivan households meant spending the whole day together, telling stories and remembering those that sacrificed to get us where we are today. I’m so grateful that this day continues to strengthen our family bond. Festivities Food and music really make up such a major portion of a culture’s identity, and while I love food and music from other ethnicities, Ireland always call me back home. My wife jokes that any time I hear a fiddle I stop in my tracks. During this week if you can find a local place with some musicians playing traditional songs, I highly recommend it – if you can’t find that borrow your parents’ Bing Crosby or Chieftains albums. This past Tuesday at a beautiful performance of Siamsa na nGael, Beverly O’Regan Thiele sang “Mo Ghile Mear”, and it moved me in a way that that song never has before. So rosin up the bow, and enjoy your corned beef and cabbage! We of course welcome all cultures to celebrate this faith journey together, but as we celebrate our patron saint I hope that we can call to mind what St. Patrick set out to do. To all, have a blessed and happy St. Patrick’s Day!