St. Patrick’s Day

Today is St. Patrick’s Day – an Irish holiday. St. Patrick’s day is a significant day here in Toronto and includes a big parade, people wear Green, restaurant and pubs turning themselves into Green enterprises, classrooms talking about and celebrating all that is Green and Irish.  What began as a religious holiday is now a festive c Image Shamrock_with_Pipeelebration in many parts of the world.
St. Patrick’s Day is about St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland. St. Patrick is credited for bringing Christianity to Ireland. The shamrock is what St. Patrick used to illustrate the Holy trinity.  March 17th is believed to be the day St. Patrick died.
Thinking about schools and classrooms, should we teach St. Patrick’s Day from a perspective other than a festive celebration? Why is it a prominent celebration here in Canada?  How is it that Irish and other ethnicities alike rejoice in St. Patrick’s Day? When I taught in the public schools we encouraged students to dress in Green, we had a parade through the halls of the school, we read books about St. Patrick’s day and Ireland, and had several activities (arts, crafts, writing) to honour the celebration. Yet not once do I recall and inquiry or examination of what the Day represents both historically and for today.  What are the roles and responsibilities of teachers when it comes to celebrations and religious based traditions? In Toronto, Christmas has been the hotly debated and accommodated celebration for decades. What about the celebrations that are not framed in religion and yet are still entrenched in identity and power? Do we blindly and happily engage in the happiness and celebration without thought to the messages of exclusion and power we send when we honour one group and not another? Or do we engage in the often burdensome experience of exposing the inequities of such celebrations? Or, do we do nothing at all?
In an interesting article by Sallie Marston (1989), “Public rituals and community power: St. Patrick’s day parades in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1841–1874”, Marston states, “parades and other forms of mass public ritual are better characterized as demonstrations of community power and solidarity and serve as complex commentaries on the political economy of urban-industrial social relations”.  Perhaps a safe and productive space for exploring the ‘power’ of celebrations is better served in teacher education classrooms. Teacher educators who take a critical stance in their practice raise consciously engaging issues and connect social theories to classroom practice and student learning. Yiola

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