For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be Irish. I think it had something to do with me going to a catholic school in Connecticut and being one of maybe three tan kids in a K-8 school (we didn’t even have a black kid until I was in 6th grade). But being Irish seemed to be pretty awesome. They had a holiday just for them, a college used them as a mascot, Claddagh rings were worn as if they were symbols of an elite secret society, and they just had the prettiest hair in the world. My mother — although not Irish, but Northern Italian — as well as most of her six brothers and sisters had beautiful red hair. I, on the other hand, had boring brown hair, and would have killed for that marvelously beautiful recessive gene.
But alas, red hair, or a drop of Irish blood I do not have. I have slowly come to terms with the fact that the only way I can be welcomed into the Irish clan is to marry into it. And I do go to Ireland next week so… it could happen!
I digress. St. Patrick’s Day was the day that even I got to be Irish. If only for a day. I loved this holiday. I would deck myself out in green, and wear shamrock stickers on my cheeks and “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” buttons on my sweater. Yeah, it was a big deal for me. And then I went to college.
I am a graduate of the University of Illinois. And anyone within a state’s radius knows of the mystical holiday held each year at the University of Illinois as Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day.
*ahem* Excuse me while I clear my throat as I prepare to give you the history of this magical holiday. The year was 1996. Scott Cochran, our hero and top bar owner of Champaign-Urbana, brought the Brotherhood of Bar Owners together for an important meeting.
“Brethren,” he began. “We are missing out on a great holiday revenue opportunity here.” His fellow brothers scratched their heads in confusion, wondering what he could possibly mean. “Every year the University of Illinois has their Spring Break during any college student’s highest anticipated holiday for binge drinking –”
“You mean their first and twentieth birth year?” Meyer interrupted Cochran’s soliloquy. Everyone groaned at Eric Meyer, and one brother asked under his breath to another why he was even invited in the first place.
“No, Meyer, St. Patrick’s Day. Jesus, dude. This is why you are the owner of KAM’S. If you would just listen.” After so rudely being interrupted, Cochran scanned the crowd of his brothers, and using his great speech-giving skills, he executed a perfectly timed, long, dramatic pause. “What if we advertised for a new holiday celebrated a week before St. Patrick’s Day? And we could call it the Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day?”
“By george!” His brothers cried. “The man’s a genius!” They patted Cochran’s back and thanked him for all of the money they were going to make.
And as the years went by, it became a campus-wide — and then state-wide — holiday. Unofficial was never going away. As a freshman, I remember my mother calling me on the phone asking if I had heard of this holiday. The University hated this unofficial holiday so much that they sent letters to every students’ parents telling them about what was going to happen. They tried to How the Grinch Stole Christmas! the holiday, changing Spring Break to after St. Patrick’s Day, but it didn’t work. The Whos of Alcoholism still came together for that week before St. Patrick’s Day, fahoo fores dahoo doresing around the beer keg. Nothing could stop them from potentially dying from alcohol poisoning or getting a $300 drinking ticket.
And at first, Unofficial was awesome. The brainstorming of your cleverest — or most pop-culturally themed — Unofficial Green Drinking Shirt, the mapping out of your day, the understanding of pacing yourself. But the shimmer of Unofficial did slowly begin to tarnish. If you weren’t 21, there was no point in leaving the house party you were at since cops were literally flooding the streets. By 5pm, the campus was infested with students from other campuses, wreaking havoc on our campus and not giving a shit what they did. And when you were 21, the bars were so crowded and overpriced it wasn’t even worth it. If you were alumni, you had only a short amount of time until you came off as creepy instead of nostalgic.
St. Patrick’s day is a double-edge sword now. You can either be drunk and have an amazing time, or be sober and want to kill everyone around you for being the dumbest people on the planet. Now, I don’t really feel anything for St. Patrick’s Day. The celebration of St. Patrick’s banishment of snakes from Ireland got lost somewhere between the ten-foot long beer bong, and painful hangover you have by 7:15.
Maybe it’s because I am so far away from my friends, or because I really am just not at all a bit Irish, but St. Patrick’s Day has become just another day of the year for me.
Like Pi Day or May the Fourth. Seriously, nerds. Stop it.