WHETHER your Irish heritage can be traced back to Tipperary or is as imaginary as a twerking leprechaun, we take our St. Patrick’s Day traditions very seriously around here.
As we should: Savannah owes much to its Irish ancestors, from the hard-working immigrants who dug South Georgia’s canals and laid its railroads to the civic heroes who helped build a diverse, prosperous Southern city. Cripes, we might all be wearing redcoats instead of green if Irish son Sergeant William Jasper hadn’t helped fight off the British during the American Revolution, and Limerick native Mathias Ray became the ultimate rebel when he shocked his Savannah in-laws with his Union blues during the Civil War.
Every year, we proudly honor this legacy of faith, family and grit by inviting a couple hundred thousand of our closest friends to town and enjoining them to party until their faces fall off.
Most locals have their own specific rituals for St. Patrick’s Day: The official types wake at dawn to eat a champion breakfast of green eggs ‘n’ grits before they don their kelly green blazers for the parade. The pious among us begin the day with Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, and the heretics start sinning as soon as the bars open at 7am.
The super-organized schlep chairs and coolers to stake out their spots on the sidewalk along the parade route while those averse to crowds head south for quieter verdancy, like Jacksonville.
For many years, our family’s St. Patrick’s Day customs have remained unchanged. We wake up, throw on an old Dropkick Murphys CD and get busy creating the day’s ensemble from our special box of sparkly and feathery green accessories (doesn’t every Savannah household have one of these?).
After arguing over who was supposed to figure out the shuttle schedule, we saddle up our bikes and ride to my husband’s gym on Bull Street, where we stash our wheels and join the emerald-hued hordes.
Skipping in between floats, we settle in to watch the parade in front of Southern Motors Acura, indulging in the legendary kindness and clean bathrooms of the Kaminsky family. Invariably, someone wants to spend their allowance on yet another over-sized pluffy top hat from a street vendor, which is why our special sparkle costume box needs bungee cords to keep closed.
Around lunchtime, we amble towards Liberty Street to meet up with my father-in-law, who generously treats us to the traditional buffet at the Chatham Club atop the DeSoto Hilton. From the 14th floor, the streets look remarkably civilized, though at our linen-draped table there’s always a sparky discussion about whether our street vendor accessories meet the Chatham Club’s long-standing requirement of a coat and tie.
After we’ve eaten enough corned beef and cabbage to stave off famine for another year, the children head off with their grandpa and us grown-ups are free to attend various parties at downtown residences, some to which we’ve actually been invited. One year I spent an hour in someone’s Charlton Street living room sipping Jameson out of a china teacup before realizing we were actually supposed to be across the lane. Fortunately, the elderly couple whose house we crashed was very gracious about our confusion—they even poured us to-go cups.
The day always ends with all of us safe at home before dark. Last year, however, after I woke up face down in a stranger’s hammock in the waning shadows of the afternoon wearing a pair of Elvis sunglasses and a fake moustache in my hair, I wondered if it might be prudent to amend some of these established practices to better suit my station and stamina.
With the rope indentations still fresh in my cheek, I vowed to the leprechaun perched in the azaleas that I would rethink at least some of Savannah’s saintly traditions.
First, no more egregious red lipstick. I know it’s customary to smother the boy soldiers of Benedictine Military School in scarlet kisses as they pass by in the parade, but if we are not mother, auntie, sister nor classmate to any of these young men, I hereby declare that is not in any way appropriate to subject them to our lip assaults. They’re already suffering enough in those wool uniforms. But I do reserve the right to plant a wet smooch on one of the Budweiser Clydesdales.
Pinching people who don’t wear green. Again, it’s 2016 and we don’t go around touching strangers, or anyone else, without consent. Legend has it that we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day to make ourselves invisible to the leprechauns, who like to harass party poopers with their sharp little fingers. When humans pinch each other we’re really just stealing work from an oppressed minority, so stop it.
Also keep in mind that those not dressed in holiday garb might be working, or colorblind. Or British. Still, if you’re going to try and pass off that pair of khaki cargo shorts as celebratory, you should at least expect a catcall.
Curb the gluttony, just a wee bit. There’s something about St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah that inspires the combination of all human appetites into a singular mawing urge to eat, drink, fight, and um, fling our inhibitions into the breeze.
For some miscreants, this perfect storm of overindulgence may result in a field trip in the back of a police car. The rest of us get off somewhat easier with synapse-searing hangovers, obstreperous indigestion, vague recollections of regretful encounters involving someone else’s moustache, and often all of the above.
I’m not suggesting we ought to trade in tradition; I’m just reminding myself not to fly so far off the rails of civil behavior and gastric well-being that I don’t recover until August. Would it be sacrilege to start with a Crockpot of grass-fed, hormone-free corned beef served with organic, locally-grown kale?
Also, I just found a recipe for gluten-free Irish soda bread on the internet.
Ouch! Was that a leprechaun pinch I just felt?
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Thanks, Jim, for my new campaign slogan.