St. Patrick’s Day – initially a Christian festival meant to solidify nationalist feelings among members of the Church of Ireland during a most pious time (uh, LENT) – has devolved into an excuse for millions of people around the world to “become Irish for a day” or, in other words, get shit-faced drunk and act like complete assholes. Not only does this behavior completely pervert the spirit of St. Patrick (who escaped six years of slavery to devote his life to missionary work), it also plays on the worst stereotypes about the Irish people: that they are lazy but hot-headed people whose most meaningful goal in life is to don green clothing and drink until they pass out on somewhere on 95th Street after the South Side St. Patrick’s Day Parade. How, exactly, is that a celebration of St. Patrick?
And now the same thing has happened to Cinco de Mayo, which is a Mexican celebration of the victory of General Seguin over French imperialist forces in 1862 (NOT Mexican Independence Day, which is on September 16). But I bet if you sat outside, say, El Jardin next Saturday night, and asked the people walking in to “celebrate Cinco de Mayo” what, exactly, they were celebrating, they wouldn’t have a clue. Furthermore, just as with St. Patrick’s Day, the holiday has become a glorification of all the worst stereotypes about Mexicans: that they are fun-loving people who can’t wait to bask in the sun and drink margaritas and Corona beer until they pass out and wake up with sand in unmentionable places.
Maybe I’m a party pooper, or I haven’t mastered the finer points of alcoholic behavior (for which I’m actually grateful), but it’s all so distasteful to me. It’s one thing if you’re actually Irish or Mexican and want to honor these holidays for reasons related to their original meaning: a sense of national pride (though, even then, why is anyone who was born outside of Ireland celebrating?) or in remembrance of an important military victory. But to use these once-meaningful dates as an excuse for consuming alcohol in ungodly amounts? Call it for what it is: a sorry justification for a drinking problem that unnecessarily stereotypes entire cultures of people.