Explore Irish Traditions This St. Patrick’s Day
by Sarah Lockwood
For many Americans, St. Patrick’s Day is all about enjoying a parade and heading to a local bar to drink a pint or two of green beer. But what about those who don’t want to spend the occasion drinking, either because they abstain from alcohol for health reasons or are even in an alcohol recovery program?
As it turns out, there are all kinds of ways to enjoy St. Paddy’s Day – and plenty that don’t require a single sip of alcohol! The favorite early spring holiday that celebrates the patron Saint of Ireland is a great excuse to explore this fascinating culture from across the sea. The Irish have a rich musical, dance, and language history. Try a few old traditions on for size this year for a change in step.
Many people have heard of the popular Irish show Riverdance, where traditional music and steps are performed on a stage. Irish dancing is actually deeply steeped in community – and is not a spectator sport. One fun tradition is the Irish ceili dance (pronounced kay-lee). The ceili has been around since the 1500s. It is a fairly straightforward folk dance performed by couples to jeels or rigs. Attending a ceili is a great night out: you’ll get great exercise, use your brain to follow the steps, and maybe even meet new people! Competition level ceili dancers are out there, but most events are tailored to people who are new to the steps. You won’t be alone – an opportunity to learn step-by-step is often provided. This is a great date night out for adults, but can also be a fun physical education lesson for children middle school-aged and older.
If dancing just isn’t your thing, the Irish have a long musical tradition to dive into. According to the Irish Tourism Council, there are several types of Irish music. The first is ceili, which is all about dancing. The second is seisun (pronounced seh-shoon). They define this type of music as “an informal gathering of musicians.” Some of the instruments played are familiar to Americans, like the guitar and the flute; others less so, like the Irish drum. The Tourism Council explains that because the music is somewhat improvised, songs blend seamlessly into each other, keeping the fun going. If visiting Ireland, the songs also vary by region. Stateside, try looking for events in Irish pubs, Irish heritage organizations and even churches. If you really want to get authentic, Irish Music Magazine lists some of the best Irish music festivals of the year – many of which are in Ireland or Scotland – though there is one a little closer to home at Disney World in Orlando.
Another way to connect with Irish heritage is through the beautiful language. Omniglot, an encyclopedia of written systems and languages, notes a resurgence in interest in the Irish Gaelic language, partly due to people outside of Ireland wishing to reconnect with their roots. In fact, they note the University of Montana has one of the largest and most comprehensive Irish Studies and Irish Language courses in academics internationally. If you’re looking for something in Ireland, look no further than the Irish International Festival – described as the largest celebration of Irish language and culture – which takes place for the better part of March. One initiative they support is learning the Gaelic language. In addition, they have resources to teach songs, ceili dances, and even short films. Another app offers beginners lessons in the Irish gaelic language for free. Each lesson is short and easy to follow, and available on Apple, Windows or Android devices.
No matter what your reason is for enjoying a sober holiday, investing time in the Emerald Isle’s history is a wonderful way to spend St. Patrick’s Day.