Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reflections from St Patrick's Day in Belfast

St Patrick is an interesting person to celebrate in Northern Ireland.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the saint, Patrick is said to have brought Christianity to Ireland from Britain in the 5th century, driving out all the snakes on the island in the process.
Many Protestants would not recognize him as a saint or even give him much significance. (Even during a Bible study at EBM, one person emphatically stated that he did not identify himself with St Patrick.)
At a certain point, Protestants resistance to St Patrick is a bit ridiculous. St Patrick lived centuries before Martin Luther was even born. While some might disagree with his theology in today's context, it's all part of the Christian narrative (which includes a fair number of Jews, I might add).
While Prods in East Belfast might not celebrate the saints by throwing a feast, we can still take the time to recognize Patrick's contribution to bringing Christianity to this island.

So! With that in mind, I was ready to celebrate St Patrick's Day on the island of Ireland.

In the States, it is often celebrated more as an Irish-national holiday than as a religious one. (Much like the U.S. has secularized the religious significance of Christmas.)
The traditions of wearing green to avoid pinching, eating corned beef and cabbage, and celebrating leprechauns are not really done here.
Wearing green is definitely not a requirement to avoid pinching, I am not sure that any Irish person ate corned beef and cabbage before their immigration to the U.S., and most Irish people are both a little amused and confused as to why Americans declare themselves Irish for the day.

Traditions in Belfast are rather different.
Most Catholic schools and most primary schools are out for the day. In the secondary school world, the kids are in school but watching the School's cup - the secondary schools rugby league championship game. (Campbell College won, if you wanted to know.)
I took part in the St Patrick's Day parade in Belfast, marching with a group of kids and parents from the mums & tots program and an after schools group. The city council was making the parade as family-friendly and non-sectarian as possible. So, in the parade, there were only flags with shamrocks on them - no Irish tri-colors or St Patrick's flags. Albeit amongst the spectators, there were plenty of Irish tri-colors.
(Significance of the three leaf clover - St Patrick used them to describe the trinity: three in one.)

In the past, St Patrick's day parades have been known to be the Catholic equivalent of the July 12th parades, when the Orange orders march to celebrate the Battle of the Boyne. I will go into more of that political history as we get closer to July.
Thankfully though, we didn't have anything thrown at us or any jeering remarks made.
It was actually a rather subdued parade. From an American perspective, it was bizarre not to see candy being thrown out or random paraphenalia being handed out.
The most excited people were the Asian tourists with cameras strapped to their faces.

It was actually a rather straight-forward day overall.
I walked in the parade, led an EBM Bible study that night, and finished it off with a pint of Guiness while hanging out with some people.

All I have to conclude from this experience is that Americans celebrate the patron saint of Ireland better than most residents of the actual island.

In grace and peace. :)

P.s. Here is a picture of the group in the parade. Our theme was 'Teddy Bear Picnic,' which is a popular children's book. Spotting me is a bit like playing 'Where's Waldo.' :)

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