St. Patrick’s Day memories

St. Patrick’s Day was a much anticipated celebration when I was a kid.

The teaching staff at the Catholic school I attended in Sioux City had many Sisters who were of Irish heritage and for them, this was a holiday that ranked just behind Easter and Christmas.

So late in February, the classroom color palette changed from red and red, white and blue for celebrating Valentine’s Day and honoring Lincoln and Washington to any shade of green.

Our art classes were consumed with tracing four green hearts on construction paper, joining them at the tips and affixing a stem to make the Three-Leaf Clover. We made so many of those shamrocks, the classroom took on a eerie hue with sunlight filtering through the fading green artwork taped onto the windows.

For weeks in music class, we learned and practiced Irish songs. By the time the day arrived, we were primed.

The day began at an all-school Mass. Throughout the day, Monsignor Flanagan, our stern Boston-Irish pastor, visited each classroom and delivered an Irish blessing.

In the last hour of the day, the desks were moved to the center of the room and we sang and danced Irish jigs. The final performance was a classroom parade, singing “MacNamara’s Band” with homemade instruments.

Then as if we needed it, we ate sugary sweets – cupcakes and cookies with green icing and sugar sprinkles.

Sadly, my family moved from Sioux City but I was often invited back to join my best friend’s family celebration.

When I say family, that isn’t a strict reference to genetics. My friend’s father came to America in the late 1940s from Ireland. While his parents stayed in Ireland, his brothers and sisters came to America. As news of this great land spread, several of their friends came, too. Sioux City became an enclave of Irish friends who formed a family community and every year they would gather on St. Patrick’s Day to honor the patron saint of their homeland.

Contrary to the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations centered around alcohol, these gatherings were centered on faith and family. Only years later in college was I introduced to the novelty of green beer. Compared to the celebrations of the Irish I knew as a child, an alcohol-induced revelry fell far short.

As with the school celebration, the evening began at Mass. Then it was off to the parish center where Monsignor Flanagan said grace and we feasted on a potluck meal.

After the meal, the tables were cleared away and agile dancers performed Irish jigs, accompanied by a talented pianist. In between dances, several folks took turns singing rollicking Irish tunes or those melancholy ballads that can move an adult to tears.

The music came not only from instruments but from the sweet sound of the Irish brogue. Even though it was beautiful to listen to, many spoke with such a thick accent, it was sometimes difficult to understand. Sort of like opera – you can enjoy the music without understanding the words. But in the case of my friend’s father, there was always one of his ten children nearby to help translate.

Those days have long passed, but their magic has never faded.So in the spirit of the season, my wish for you this St. Patrick’s Day is that you enjoy the warmth of friendship, the joy of music and the comfort of belonging.