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St. Patrick's is a day of heritage

Whenever the subject of heritage comes up with a group of people Iíve recently met, I canít help but feel left out. You see, Iím unable to spout off a bunch of different countries from which my family claims to have hailed. My family is Irish, and that is that. And while I do feel left out from time to time while playing the heritage game, itís not as bad as it seems, and itís given me plenty of opportunities to expand my horizons and focus on my heritage.

While other girls were spending their Saturday mornings at ballet classes, I was learning how to Irish step-dance. For a number of years, my father and I would travel to Pearl River, N.Y. (Pearl River has a particularly dense Irish population for such a tiny area) once or twice a week for ďfiddleĒ lessons that led to me competing in a number of feiseanna (singular feis; a traditional Gaelic arts and culture festival) throughout my middle school days.

While other kids were spending time on the Jersey Shore, I was up in the Catskill Mountains, sometimes referred to as the ďIrish Alps,Ē with my parents for Irish Arts Week. When people make fun of Lord of the Dance, I cringe, because I saw it on Broadway, and loved it. For a number of years, I braved the blustery March winds to march up Fifth Avenue in New York with the Bronx Gaelic League during the New York St. Patrickís Day parade.

While St. Patrickís Day is traditionally a celebration of the patron saint of Ireland, itís also a celebration of the country itself. For me, itís more than a religious holiday, or a celebration of my heritage; St. Patrickís Day is a celebration of family, as well. Every year my great-Aunt Mary holds a huge party at her house, and it seems that St. Patrickís Day is the only holiday at which everyone in my family would at least make an appearance.

And while my Aunt Maryís house isnít huge, it seems to expand on St. Patrickís Day to accommodate all of the extended family that fills the house, from the uncles who sit at the bar in the basement, to the children who use the closets in the bedrooms upstairs for hide-and-go-seek, and everyone else in between.

As soon as Iíd walk into the house on St. Patrickís Day, I was greeted with kisses and hugs from all of my family members, the smell of corned beef and cabbage wafting through the air. From the late afternoon and into the night, family members were coming and going. Uncles coming straight from work, still in their business casual attire and high-school-aged cousins showing up still in uniform from their athletic games earlier in the day, ready to devour a meal that took hours to prepare.

As the night went on, a family friend who was also a bagpiper would walk in the front door in traditional bag-piping uniform, playing tunes as everyone cleared the way, making a path for him to walk around the house as he played the bagpipes. His route around the house ended in the living room, the center of the house. Remember those fiddle lessons I said I took? For years I would be begged by my parents and aunts to show off my talent and play whatever tunes I had filed into my mental songbook since last year. Giving in, Iíd play for my family, and whatever cousin who knew how to Irish step-dance that was there.

I havenít attended the big party at Aunt Maryís for the past two years because of the immense amounts of traveling Iíd have to do just to return home to northern New Jersey for one day. My sister will text me while sheís at my auntís house with whatever family gossip sheís picked up on, and tell me how much older my younger cousins look. My mom and I will talk about who was there, and who wasnít, the following day on the phone. While I always find a way to have fun on St. Patrickís Day at school, I always feel a little pang in my heart when I realize the essential ingredient thatís missing: my Irish family.


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