There are more than a few common misconceptions surrounding good old St. Paddy’s Day. For one, there’s the fact that many people accidentally—and erroneously—swap out those ds with ts. As Caity Weaver of Gawker writes: “‘Patty is a woman’s name. The nickname used for a man named Patrick, for example, the man named Patrick who is credited with converting great swaths of Ireland to Christianity, is ‘Paddy,’ from the Irish Padraig. Calling St. Patrick’s Day ‘St. Patty’s Day’ is like referring to Christmas Eve as ‘Christie’s Eve.’” How did this misnomer gain so much traction? Clearly, somewhere along the way, as the holiday made its way across the pond with thousands of Irish immigrants, the nickname got Anglicized. If you know anything about Irish history, you know what an egregious insult that is.
Then there’s the belief that the Irish are somehow lucky. In fact, the phrase “luck of the Irish” is meant to be ironic. To have luck like an Irishman is to have extremely ill fortune—the group’s national and cultural history is riddled with famine, intolerance and terrorism. The superstitions associated with the leprechaun and his magical pot of gold, four-leaf clovers and infinity knots derive from Celtic and Catholic adventures, where a force of magic tied to these symbols of prosperity saved the unlucky Irishman.
Again we ask how this popular misreading of the phrase came about, and again we’re faced with the same rejoinder. According to Edward T. O’Donnell, Associate Professor of History at Holy Cross College and author of 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History, the phrase is, in fact, American in origin: “During the gold and silver rush years in the second half of the 19th century, a number of the most famous and successful miners were of Irish and Irish American birth…Over time this association of the Irish with mining fortunes led to the expression ‘luck of the Irish.’ Of course, it carried with it a certain tone of derision, as if to say, only by sheer luck, as opposed to brains, could these fools succeed.” That’s two for two, USA.
Finally, there’s the fact that, at least where we come from, the holiday seems to have devolved into an excuse for drinking. Yes, Lenten restrictions on eating and alcohol are lifted in commemoration of the national patron saint’s death day. No, that doesn’t mean you should imbibe your weight in Jameson, Guinness and Bailey’s in his name. (Disturbingly enough, a quick Google search of “St. Patrick’s Day nail art” yields just as many impressive depiction of overflowing beer steins as it does shamrocks and rainbows.)
That said, this mini mani Monday and St. Patrick’s Day, go ahead and celebrate by crafting with the kids and stuffing your faces full of (non-alcoholic!) Guinness brownies. However, also make it a point to debunk these undeservingly popular myths about the Irish celebration. As you paint your little leprechauns’ nails with symbols of luck and Ireland, make it a point to set the record straight. This way, the lesson will be informative, but not totally sobering.