Celebrating St. Patrick, Honoring Past and Present.

In my house growing up, my dad would cook corned beef and potatoes on this day, and our butts had better be home for it, no matter what the family down the block were having.  And why would I ever miss it?  I loved it when Dad cooked, and even more when he took such glee in it, like he did on St. Paddy’s Day.  This poem from George Bilgere pretty much sums up my pained nostalgia about this holiday’s relation to my dear departed:

Corned Beef and Cabbage

I can see her in the kitchen,
Cooking up, for the hundredth time,
A little something from her
Limited Midwestern repertoire.
Cigarette going in the ashtray,
The red wine pulsing in its glass,
A warning light meaning
Everything was simmering
Just below the steel lid
Of her smile, as she boiled
The beef into submission,
Chopped her way
Through the vegetable kingdom
With the broken-handled knife
I use tonight, feeling her
Anger rising from the dark
Chambers of the head
Of cabbage I slice through,
Missing her, wanting
To chew things over
With my mother again.

I’m not much of a cook, but I wish my dad were here to taste this Irish Soda Bread I baked yesterday.  It is OFF THE CHAIN.  I have never tasted an Irish Soda Bread this moist and decadent.  I paired it with strong black Irish Breakfast Tea and had the best rainy day elevenses ever.  I used a new recipe, chosen solely for the reason that it was written by a monk, Brother Rick Curry, from a book called The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking.  That just seemed much more authentic than something off of allrecipes.com.  It surely paid off.  You can try your hand at it as well, just note that I left out the caroway seeds, so they are truly optional.

Ours were infinitely sparklier than these, but similar in shape.

Baking bread is just one way of many that I am celebrating my ancestry this year.  I taught myself how to make St. Brigid’s crosses, which I found to be surprisingly easy when you do it with pipe cleaners, and did that craft with the youth and families at Holy Innocents, while debating with our resident Celtic scholar about how it all went down when St. Patrick brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle.  He pointed out that it was the only time in history that a religious conversion of a people group happened without bloodshed.  He stated that Christianity was accepted by the Celtic peoples because they embraced one another — and rather than wiping out Celtic culture, Celtic Christianity was born, in which we share mythology like St. Brigid herself.  I was skeptical, because I know my Pagan friends are not overfond of my friend St. Patrick, taking the legend that he drove the snakes out of Ireland to be a metaphor for pushing out Paganism.  It was a wonderful discussion.

Olive's St. Patrick's Day outfit last year, when she was only 6 months! She's already got that Irish badass glare.

This afternoon I hope to marry the two traditions in my own way, as I lead a ritual with my arts process group that will honor both St. Patrick and my ancestors.  With prayers attributed to St. Patrick in his stunningly poetic Lorica, as well as elemental rituals and arts processes, I hope to find that balance between the material world and the spiritual one that is usually so hard for me to manage.  Perhaps shots of Jameson will help — they are called spirits for a reason!  Finally, I’ll head to a traditional Irish-American way to celebrate this holiday, the annual party that a couple from church is known for throwing.  Corned beef and cabbage will be waiting for me there, and I hope, in some way, my father’s spirit will as well.

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