Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Do Leprechauns Pinch People?"

Wet blanket alert! This post is probably going to irritate more people than my posts about health care reform, political activism, Obama speaking to school children, or anti-consumerism performance art (scroll down to the video about the "Everything Is OK Guys," it's worth it).

I didn't want to be a drag on anyone's good times, so I've waited until the morning after to write this, but I have a problem with St. Patrick's Day. My mother is part Irish (although she identifies much more strongly with her Danish heritage) and thought it was fun, as many people do, to pinch you if you forgot to wear green. It didn't hurt, of course, but I recall feeling a great deal of anticipatory anxiety about it. What kind of holiday is it that people go around pinching you? Who looks forward to that?

I'm sure that we talked about leprechauns and pots of gold and rainbows, but what stuck was the pinching. As a parent I tried carrying the tradition forward once, when our daughter was young, but even the suggestion of a pinch made her cry. So that was it, the holiday was dead to me.

As I got older, the day came to be associated with beer. Green beer no less. I'm not opposed to beer. In fact I rather enjoy a pint of "liquid bread" from time to time, but on St. Patrick's Day it was about drinking a lot of it and making a fool of yourself. Again, I'm not even particularly opposed to that on occasion, but who needs a special holiday for it? Don't we already have New Year's Eve? Mardi Gras? Birthdays? Friday nights?  I tend to spend my St. Patrick's Days doing what I've come to do on all the drinking holidays: stay home watching sitcoms and falling asleep early.

And who is this famed St. Patrick anyway? I wasn't raised Catholic, so I'm probably going to sound terribly sacrilegious here, but isn't he the one who drove the metaphorical snakes out of Ireland? And aren't those snakes symbolic of the pagans and scholars? Some of my best friends are pagans. I very much enjoy celebrating their science-based holidays like the summer solstice, the winter solstice and Halloween. And I'm actually in the business of helping create new scholars, so isn't celebrating this day a refutation of my life's work?

That said, without fail, I've continued to make sure I'm wearing green every March 17th. I've never said much about the day in preschool other than to occasionally tell the story about how the mean people in the olden days used to pinch you if you weren't wearing green. And I am fond of demonstrating the fact that a shamrock is really just 3 green hearts.

This year, the internet revealed to me all the fun other teachers are having with the day, so I decided to test the waters last week by asking the kids to tell me what they know about the day. My idea was that if there seemed to be some bubbling excitement in our ranks, I'd break out a few of the more interesting art projects I've been reading about and see where that took us. I started by asking if anyone could tell us which holiday is coming up. It's a game we play upon the approach of most holidays. We guessed Easter (several times), 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Junior's birthday, and Valentine's Day. It was only when I started giving hints that Jack came up with St. Patrick's Day. When I asked what they knew about the holiday, most of them only mentioned wearing green, although Katherine did seem to have some information about rainbows and leprechauns.

When we arrived in class yesterday, only about half seem to have consciously chosen to wear green and only Peter was wearing an overtly celebratory shirt, which wasn't surprising given his very Irish surname. Of course, the fact that we scheduled our picture day for yesterday may have caused some parents to steer their kids toward shades that better set off their little cherubs' eyes or contrasted with their hair color.

I'll confess that I did get inspired by my friend Ayn over at Little Illuminations, who got her own new Little World ready just in time for a leprechaun visit, and hid pots (mini-Halloween cauldrons) of gold (pebbles spray-painted gold) in our own Little World and sprinkled some of that shamrock confetti out there, but that was about it.

It was fun, but I did have to talk down a couple of kids who were worried that leprechauns were real and might be sneaking around their own houses. And poor Lachlan, his eyebrows curved into shapes of concern, asked, "Do leprechauns pinch people?"

I just don't like this holiday.

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Anonymous said...

I'm Irish and I don't particularly care for St. Patrick's Day on any level. For my wife and I this day just brings up bad memories for us, so we pretty much don't acknowledge it.

SurprisedMom said...

I'm Irish American and I do like this holiday, but not for green beer, leprechauns or pinching people. BTW, I've never heard of pinching people because they don't wear green. That's almost sadistic in a way.

I like the day because I can spend it with family, remembering those living and dead. We have a wonderful tradition in our family that I wrote about in my two most recent blogs.

The older I get, I don't really celebrate holidays because of what they mean to other people, but what they mean to me.

But please, leave St. Patrick alone! :)

Floor Pie said...

Tom! This made me so happy. All day yesterday I was resisting the urge to write something cranky about St. Patrick's Day on my Facebook page. (Although I did post a link to that Salon article dispelling the myth of corned beef & cabbage).

St. Patrick's Day is supposed to be about Irish pride, but mostly it's become a shallow "tourism" approach to Irish culture and an embarrassing celebration of cultural stereotypes. Yeats or Joyce? The Guilford Four? Not so much. Silly hats and green beer? Now THAT's Irish! It's insulting.

My kids did enjoy some shamrock cookies for dessert, though.

Ms Debbie said...

Oh man... you knew I would comment. St Patricks Day is one of my favorite holidays. After reading your post I had to really think about " why" I feel that way. I am not Irish, I have never even had a beer - more or less a green one, and green is not the best color on me! :) I think one of the reasons, as a teacher I like it is because it is one of the most fun but least controversial holidays. I dont have to worry about offending someones religious beliefs or making fun of their heritage. I can extend the kids imaginations, though I did think yesterday. I have parents that DO NOT like to teach their kids about Santa ( because he isnt real ) but for some reason have no problem with pushing the little green leprechaun belief. Why is that? We have had a blast and I am sad that it will end tomorrow. I am jealous that I dont have a little world. I need to go back and read your old post ( before I started stalking you ) to see how you started it and maybe I can be cool enough to do one next year. And about the pinching - I am happy to say that it wasnt mentioned one time by me or any of the kids the two weeks we have explored St Patty's Day and the Irish. :)

If this is how you stir up trouble I am afraid you might be as passive as I am... : just sayin... :)

Maria Wynne - Casa Maria's Creative Learning Zone said...

I don't celebrate St. Patricks Day in my classrrom. Are we sending mix messages to children saying it okay to pinch?

Unknown said...

I'd never heard about pinching people for not wearing green until this year. No thanks! We tried building a leprechaun trap in my home daycare last year - one of the kids thought that a captured leprechaun would lead you to his pot of gold - but one of my little girls was so terrified at the idea of small men running around the place that we had to post a "Please keep out of our house" sign this year. The leprechauns kindly left some chocolate money in our mailbox (out of pity, perhaps, that we were missing out on all of that green beer and pinching?)

Deborah Stewart said...

LOL! We definitely have this in common. It is funny, in all my years of teaching, I have never really focused on what St. Patrick's day is - I just celebrated the color green!

At the school at work with, they do lot's of St. Patrick's day activities and seem to have a ball with it but I am an old fuddy duddy and not just with St. Patrick's day. I tend to keep things in the classroom based on reality and don't feel comfortable "tricking the kids" into thinking there is a leprechaun sneaking around. I always feel so guilty doing that:)

I am not opposed to others who are having fun with the idea - but I just kind touch on it rather than celebrate it. You know, my dad always claimed he was going to pinch us if we didn't have green on and looking back, I just realized - he never ever even once actually pinched us!

jenny said...

I was looking at all the St Patricks Day crafts popping up everywhere and came to the conclusion that St Patrick's day must be much bigger in the US than in Australia.

We have loads of Irish people in Australia - many of us are from Irish convict stock - but the celebrations seem to be low key except in the pubs!

I've never worked anywhere that has celebrated the day with the kids and I'm fairy sure most of our kids wouldn't have a clue about it. So that's why we don't celebrate it at preschool - it isn't relevant to their lives.

I do love St Patrick's day for another reason though - it was the day my oldest son was born :)

Unknown said...

I so appreciate your perspective. I, too, remember the worry of being pinched as a small child and didn't like the holiday as I was growing up. One of the first years I taught, I worked with a teacher who made everything fun. There was NO pinching. Like Ms. Debbie, I've found that it IS a very non-confrontational holiday, plus it gives me a lead in to some geography stuff about Ireland and potatoes. I also talk a lot about folklore, comparing the stories to other folklore we've read like Paul Bunyon.

I HAVE NEVER, NOR WILL I EVER allow pinching for not wearing green. (I never even discuss this custom!)When I was in a larger school, I always made sure we made green necklaces or pins so no one else would try to pinch my friends.

That said, I think it is a personal preference. We all have themes that we enjoy teaching more than others. Those always seem to be the best units. For me, one is St. Patrick's Day.

As for the drinking, I don't mind a glass here or there, but like you, we stay away off the roads on "traditional drinking holidays". Since I'm married to a half-Irish (and half-Italian), I usually make homemade corned beef and cabbage on St. Pat's, but this year I had other engagements and didn't get to.

Sorry so long, thanks for sharing your St. Pat's "non-experience"! :)

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

I like St. Pats day, but please don't hold that against me. All your reasons are valid, however I like to think St Patrick got rid of the actual snakes in ireland and I think a party for that is always needed due to my deep fear of snakes.

We had some pinching issues at school yesterday. Our principal had to go on the intercom and tell the kids that there would be NO MORE PINCHING! :)

Ms Debbie said...

OH ! And one more thing. I know by reading my blog it looks very " theme-y" to an outsider but I really dont like themes. I USE themes as a vehicle to teach the real skills I am interested in. For instance, I wasnt teaching St Patricks Day but it gave me the opportunities to discuss how a rainbow is formed, how yellow and blue make green , to count the gold pieces in a bucket, to graph what kind of potatoes the kids like best, to expose the children to music of a different culture and even learn an Irish jig. The list goes on and one. By saying we are doing a unit on " something" it gives the parents something tangible to hang on to rather than " we learn while we play." Does that make sense.. or did I just ramble? :) again...

Unknown said...

I never did one thing special on St. Patricks day. I am sure that is because the christian school I attended from Kindergarten to 12th grade didn't get hyped up about it. Perhaps because it is a Catholic holiday. Who knows? I still like you however you feel about it!