For most of my childhood (and some of my adulthood), I celebrated my own Scottish heritage through dance. Scottish Highland dance, while often confused with Irish step dance, is actually quite different. Sure, we wear the same shoes and dance to some of the same tunes, but the noticeable similarities really stop there. But because most Americans either don’t try to understand the difference between the two or don’t care that there even is a difference, I spent most of my early St. Patrick’s days explaining to people that no, I’m not Irish, no, I don’t do Irish dance, but yes, I am marching in this parade and performing in this McSomething’s Pub because someone who wanted a little Celtic flavor asked me and my fellow dancers to do so.
Now, it is true that Scotland and Ireland’s histories are intertwined. And it’s true that both countries faced similar struggles against the English (though with different outcomes). But they are also different enough that I get insulted when people confuse my cultural heritage with someone else’s. I was also often a little indignant that my Irish friends got a holiday that the whole country celebrated. Why was as much national attention not paid to Robert Burns Day, or the feast of St. Andrew? It didn’t make sense and frustrated me.
As I got older and learned more about Irish culture and my own Scottish culture, I began to become indignant that Irish-Americans would let their ancestors be disrespected in the way that most Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Why encourage negative stereotypes of drunk little redheads running around and getting into mischief? Irish immigrants played a huge part in the building of America into what it is today. And yes, Ireland has certainly seen its fair share of unfairness over the years (and still sees it today - anyone wanting to learn a little more about Ireland's history could start with this poem by Yeats), but why exacerbate the negative instead of highlight the positive? In a Huffington Post column, Seamus McKiernan makes a strong argument for not celebrating this manufactured holiday at all.
Apart from historical frustrations, I also find myself filled with mixed emotions and memories of St. Patrick’s Days past. I can remember putting on Celtic tunes, dancing around my living room as a young girl and eating my dad’s corned beef and cabbage for many years, which is a pleasant memory. I specifically recall St. Pat’s 2000, when my younger sister was just four months old and, in a nine-year-old ploy for attention, I pinched her (hard) on the ear for not wearing green. She cried for an hour. Backfire. I also remember the death of my grandmother, who played as much a part in raising me as my own parents, the day after St. Patrick’s Day when I was thirteen. I remember my first real kiss on St. Patrick’s a few years later. And I remember holding my dad’s hand as we hiked out of the Grand Canyon together. I remember embarking on what should have been a 24-hour end-of-spring-break road trip from Tampa to Kansas City with one of my best friends, listening to Mizzou win a basketball game at the buzzer and eventually making it home in just under 18 hours.
So, yes, today I am wearing green. But I did not take the day off to drink and watch a bunch of other people wear green and walk down the street together. I made my dad’s corned beef recipe, and kept my ears filled with Celtic tunes all day. No, I am not Irish. I’m Scottish, but you can kiss me anyway ;)