Yesterday I praised the Christmas crooners of previous generations, but we’ve had some good stuff of our own. This bitter, poignant winter tale touches on the melancholy undercurrent of the holiday so perfectly that it never fails to make my mom cry. Adding the sad epilogue, in which Kirsty MacColl was horribly killed on her Christmas vacation in Cozumel, Mexico (the wealthy perpetrator caught, but never prosectued) at the age of 41 and the peak of her career, and this is perhaps the most bittersweet–emphasis on sweet–Christmas song since “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”
Somewhere just south of a dozen people have asked me about my plans for St, Patrick’s Day–virtually all of whom are aware that I’m an American of English-German descent who, while raised as a protestant whose family strongly believed that “Catholics are a lot like normal Christians except for the idolatry and Mary-worship,” came out years ago as a full-bore eye-rolling atheist reason-monkey.
And they ask me if I celebrate St. Patrick’s day? I mean, come on, man. Get a clue.
But what do we know about St. Patrick really? For starters, his name wasn’t Patrick–he was born “Maewyn Succat,” which is a pretty cool name but must have been a tremendously difficult in high school. He would go on to change his name to Patrick, though I’m not sure why? I’m thinking maybe he shot a man in Reno. Just to watch him die.
Guinness. I’m not afraid to say it, but the emperor has no clothes–and Guinness, if you take away the mystique, is a pretty foul brew compared to a wide variety of regionally brewed domestic craft beers. It’s like the Budweiser of stouts.
In Ireland, St Patrick’s day was historically a minor religious holiday marked by Catholics attending mass then getting together for a family meal, like pilgrims without all that pesky genocide. In fact, in Ireland the bars used to close for the day. It took Americans to develop the new traditions of getting stinky-ass drunk, smashing things, fighting strangers and ultimately falling down in the gutter and passing out in a puddle of one’s own piss and vomit. Not surprisingly, the traditions developed in Boston. Why? Because Irish clergy would give their flocks a special dispensation from all those lenten sacrifices.
Always eager to disprove long-held cultural biases, the Irish immigrants wasted no time in plunging wildly into a morass of booze-addled sin and debauchery. As they did a few weeks earlier, in preparation for Lent. But that’s why I tell people, if I ever start running with the Jesus Gang again, I’m pledging with the Romans. Methodists have no holidays that encouraging drinking and slam-dancing to the Pogues or the Dropkick Murphys. None.
Corned beef and cabbage, the official meal of St. Patricks Day and Ireland—err, no. Irish immigrants in America appropriated corned beef from Jewish-Americans and added cabbage (which is the national tree of Ireland, of course). In Ireland, they would have had bacon or lamb.
St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish. He was born in England to Roman parents. Remember that the next time your teabagging Irish brother-in-law is being an asshat at Christmas dinner: St Patrick was ITALIAN!
On the other hand, a bar in town is selling a St Patrick’s Day drink special called a “Car Bomb” which is darkly hilarious, if you’re old enough–or read enough–to get the irony. Sadly, most of target demographic isn’t–and doesn’t–and almost certainly won’t.
The best part of St. Patricks Day, of course, is the “Erin Go Bra-less” pun. That one makes for some hellaciously appealing Facebook memes.
Soldier magazine reports that the English Army, bowing to increasing pressure from Animal Rights Activists and the exhorbitantly expensive costs of trimming and maintenance, has announced that bearskin helmets worn by the Irish guards while on duty at Buckingham Palace will be phased out in favor the more politically correct and less costly synthetic “faux” bearskin hats.
“The hats are extremely expensive to initially procure,” explained Major Arthur Ursa. “And it’s a little-known fact that the hair on bearskin keeps growing and needs to be regularly trimmed–a tedious, time-consuming, and difficult process.”
Ursa explained that the switch to faux fur not only will save “a shilling from every tax-paying household in Britain, money we can put to better use on ammunition and domestic surveillance,” but will ease the burden of poor public relations generated by continual protests by anti-fur activists who appear at British Embassies around the globe. The protestors distract government employees, create a security risk, and cause strife with local authorities whenever they appear.
As incredible as it sounds, scientists have confirmed this hair-raising fact about the bearskins. The skins retain an original hormone, often for a decade or more, causing follicles to “live” long after the animal has been skinned. Scientists call it otiose and it is hoped it can be put to use in medical research — especially into baldness.
“Bears hibernate in the winter and the amazing thing is that in the spring the skins really start to sprout.” Ursa explained. “We have a specially trained platoon of barbers who labor round the clock from March well into June.”
Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season. Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.
At best, I’m ambivalent towards Celtic music, if for no other reason than because a few close relatives of mine have, after a lifetime of identifying as descendents of snobby British folk, have become “just add water” deeply felt Irish. When my mother bought a kilt a few years ago, that was pretty much the last straw–although it’s great at Christmas, because there is always some kind of crap they’re selling to people who wish they were Irish, whether it’s glossy photography books of rolling green hills and cold, shitty sheep farms, or CDs of hyper-melodramatic mediocre Irish musicians from PBS–like “Celtic Women” or “Celtic Thunder” or mom’s cheeseball (with nuts) favorite, Daniel O’Donnell.
The Chieftains, though, are the real deal–not some box of made for TV marketing tools, and this is one of the best Christmas albums out there, chock full of tradition and reverence. My favorite track, the “St. Stephens Day Murders” isn’t what you might think if you know a little about Irish history–a hilarious and very familiar tale of internecine holiday conflict.
I love to tell stories with words and images, often with a darkly magical twist. While speculative fiction & dissecting pop culture are my primary passions, I also work with clients & brands by assisting with content creation, editing, marketing & design.