Tag Archives: saint patrick’s day

Corning of The Beef and St. Patrick’s Day – Irish American Tradition

Context: The following piece was collected during a casual interview in the informant’s home. 

Background: The informant is my mother, who is a third generation Irish immigrant. She learned the tradition from her parents, who partook in it with numerous other Irish-American families who also lived in Bridgeport, CT. 


Collector: So who corns the beef?

Informant:Whoever’s house it was got the meat and they put it in the pot and then somebody else poured in the water and then somebody else put in, like a couple of people would put in the different spices. So it was a group activity if you will, they kind of all … um joined in. Obviously there weren’t jobs for every adult but everybody was there.

Collector: Where do you put it after you season it?

Informant: Okay, you take the meat and you have this huge pot looking thing in a wooden box almost with these long handles so that the men could carry it because it was very heavy. And you would put it either in your basement, um or somewhere cool and dark because it was in Connecticut so at that time of the year it would be cool enough. So one year when we had it at our house we put it in the garage and covered it um because we didn’t have windows on our garage doors. 

Collector: What day would you put it in there?

Informant: Always on um Ash Wednesday. And then on Saint Patrick’s Day whoever had the meat at their house, they held the party. And they always like set these incredible tables up with all sorts of decorations and party favors.

Collector: Like what, for example?

Informant: Party favors could be the candy coins. They would make pots of gold to put on the table and use the candy coins. Sometimes they made little leprechauns out of um pipe cleaners and sticks and stuff. 

Analysis: I really enjoyed hearing this piece from my mother, as she reminisced about her childhood and the strong tradition that was upheld by her family and numerous Irish-American families in her neighborhood. Irish immigrants, like many other immigrant groups, were subject to negative stereotypes upon arrival to the States. In ritualizing the preparation and consumption of corned beef, a distinctly Irish-American dish, the participants forge pride in their community. The fact that the process begins on Ash Wednesday, a holy day observed in multiple Christian traditions, highlights the shared religious identity of this group as well. All of the families who participated in the tradition were Catholic, a religious identity that is often understood in Ireland as a nationalist political identity as well. The “party favors” on the table suggest touristic representations of Ireland, an idealized and even romanticized conception of the Motherland. Ultimately, the tradition represents the generation of a hybrid, even liminal culture that is neither wholly Irish nor wholly American.

Erin Express

“How appropriate do I have to be?” was the first thing Lila asked me about describing this tradition.

Background: Lila attends Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. When she arrived at school she called my friends to ask us if we had ever heard of Erin Express. When we all assured her that we had never heard of that she began to describe this Philly-wide tradition called Erin Express that related to St. Patrick’s Day.

Context: I had this conversation with Lila over the phone. I recorded our conversation and transcribed it below.

“I go to Drexel University in Philadelphia. When I first got here I started hearing about this event. Actually I don’t even want to call it an event, it’s not an event. Its something the city… it’s like the 3 weekends leading up to Saint Patrick’s day, a bunch of bars and clubs in the area will have a kind of bar crawl? If you go to college in Philadelphia you will have pregames* starting in the morning and then go to those bar crawls. So basically the three weekends leading up to St. Patrick’s day and then on St. Patrick’s day you will get dressed up, you’ll wake up early, wear all St. Patrick’s day apparel and basically day drink the whole day and go to different bars. And it’s not just something college kids do, it’s something that older people do too. It’s not a college thing, I guess if you’re in college you’ll start at frats but end up at bars. It was something interesting about the culture here that I had never heard and something cool that Philly does. Yeah.”

When I asked her to elaborate on what people typically wear, this is what she said;

“You dress up like it’s St. Patrick’s Day, even if it is multiple weeks before. The whole theme of it is Irish? A lot of time friend groups or sororities will make a t-shirt for it that people will buy that have puns about Erin Express since that’s the name of it or puns about St. Patrick’s Day or different cute designs. It’s almost like tailgate t-shirt culture** but in a different kind of setting.”

*Pregame- a pre-party where people get together to drink alcohol before going out to a bar, typically as a way to save money on drinks once you’re at the bar. It is also a way to meet up with your friends to “get the party started”.

** Many sororities and fraternities at various schools will make t-shirts that have jokes on them about the school that they are playing often in football that people will wear to tailgates. Some examples for USC would be t-shirts that say “Tri Delta Tailgates” or “FUCLA” (as a way of insulting a rival).

Tradition – Irish

“Every Saint Patrick’s Day my parents would go all out to celebrate.  For most people, St. Patrick’s Day isn’t that big of a deal, and most people don’t really do anything.  But my parents would always make it a huge event.  They would dye the milk green, they would dye my dog green, and my mom would always spray my dad’s hair green with temporary hair dye.  And when we would wake up, our rooms would always be really messy because leprechauns are supposed to make a mess of everything.  So every St. Patrick’s Day we did that until I got a lot older and it was really fun.  I don’t know anyone else who celebrated like my family did.”

Kelsey said that her parents liked to celebrate every holiday, including St. Patrick’s Day.  I asked if her parents celebrated the holiday like this when they were little kids, and she said that she was not sure but it was likely that her parents invented the idea when her and her sisters were born.  Kelsey said she really enjoyed celebrating St. Patrick’s Day because it was so different than other holidays, and because she did not know any other families that were as enthusiastic about celebrating it.  She felt that it helped set her family apart from other families, and she appreciated the effort her parents exerted in order to give her and her sisters a unique and special holiday tradition.  I also asked Kelsey if her parents are Irish and she said that her dad is fully Irish, and she is half Irish.  She said that this may have been part of the reason her dad wanted to make the day such a fun celebration, but she said that even if her family was not Irish her parents still would have celebrated the holiday.

Kelsey also said that when she got older, her parents stopped dying everything green and messing up her room.  Because Kelsey enjoyed celebrating the holiday so much, though, she dyed the milk green herself.  She said that messing up her room was kind of a hassle to clean up later, but dying milk and wearing green was an important part of the holiday that she did not want to miss out on.

It seems like as Kelsey grew up, the context of the holiday changed.  When she was little, her parents’ creativity allowed her and her sisters to participate in a unique holiday tradition that set themselves apart from other families.  However, as Kelsey and her sisters grew up, some aspects of the tradition became a nuisance and no longer appreciated as much (i.e.- messing up Kelsey’s room).  As a result, her family changed how they celebrated the holiday in order to correspond with the age level of the children.  Kelsey did not want to stop celebrating completely since she had so many positive memories of the holiday, which explains why she would try to continue some of the traditions by herself.

Although I also have Irish heritage, my family has been less active in celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.  We wear green and might go to a small party at night, but I have never heard of a family celebrating St. Patrick’s Day to the extent that Kelsey’s family did.  Although Kelsey’s family has Irish roots, it seems like Kelsey’s parents were more concerned with creating unique and memorable traditions for her and her sisters to enjoy, regardless of their heritage.