How do I explain St. Patrick's Day to my kids?

Let’s clear up a few things. |  jeonsango  for  Pixabay

Let’s clear up a few things. | jeonsango for Pixabay

Fun fact about redheads: We're not all from Ireland. 

Another fun fact about redheads: We don't all want to be kissed by strangers. 

These facts were lost on what often seemed like the entire population of Boston, where every March 17 the usually amicable drunk strangers on the T would be overly amicable and try to kiss me.

Now that I've aged out of the usual street aggression for all but the most persistent of harassers, I no longer go into hiding on the holiday. But now that my child is old enough to identify changes in the season by the Target Dollar Spot, we cannot escape a month filled with shamrock erasers and green fedoras. 

For the past year I've worked hard to introduce different holidays to my child, even those we don't celebrate. Valentine's Day is about showing love to others. Thanksgiving is about being thankful for what we have and sharing it with others. Arbor Day is about trees. Those are easy enough.

Other holidays are trickier. Celebrating a resurrection with an enormous bunny? Celebrating a birth by giving everyone else presents? I find kids will ignore even the most glaring inconsistencies for candy, presents, or both. 

But what do I tell a three-year old about St. Patrick's Day? We're technically all supposed to be celebrating the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. That's sort of a strange thing to celebrate, given that we're neither Irish nor Christian. But I have to tell him something, because with his fiery locks, plenty of strangers will be trying to kiss him this week, too. 

So I started digging. And it turns out, St. Patrick's Day might be my new favorite holiday. 

Why all the drinking?

For a religious holiday, there's an awful lot of drinking on St. Patrick's Day. But if you think about the timing of the holiday, the drinking is a brilliant sort of rule-breaking.

A saint day is cause for feasting and drinking, two things that Christian celebrants are generally not doing during the season of Lent. So St. Patrick's Day and its sanctioned excess have become a sort of "cheat day," permitting celebration where it was normally not allowed. 

Why all the kissing?

All the drinking might have helped create a second well-known feature of the holiday: kissing. But why is it just Irish people we're supposed to be kissing? 

Really, we're all supposed to be kissing the Blarney Stone, which is fabled to give eloquence to its smoochers. There are various legends surrounding the stone, but all of them center on a person who, upon kissing the rock, was better able to persuade.

Do a Google images search for the Blarney Stone and you'll see a number of people kissing an old rock. That rock, by the way, is atop a castle, so there's some debate that the castle's keepers picked a safer, non-magic rock so as not to imperil its visitors or Ireland's tourism industry.

If you can't kiss the Blarney Stone, the next best thing is an Irish person. So when you kiss an Irish person on St. Patrick's Day, it's to make you a more eloquent speaker. 

Now I have a lot to tell my son about St. Patrick's Day. I'll probably skip the snakes (those are metaphor snakes, anyway). But eating and drinking when it would normally not be culturally permitted? Celebrating clever use of language? Even though I'm skeptical about the successful combination of those two activities, I'm excited to try.