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Sober St. Patrick’s Day?

The Feast of St. Patrick is March 17. It can be about more than getting drunk.

Key points

  • The Feast of St. Patrick is an ancient religious and cultural festival that spread across the globe with the Irish diaspora.
  • Intense marketing by the alcohol industry has made St. Patrick's Day one of the national celebrations most drenched in alcohol.
  • A movement to promote Sober St. Patrick's Day is returning the celebration to its origins, a day of family and community gatherings.

St. Patrick was a Romano-British Christian who lived from circa 385-461 ACE. Whether he was captured and enslaved in Ireland at age 16, or merely fled from Briton to avoid official duties, he returned home after six years and became a cleric in the Catholic church. He then undertook a mission to Ireland and is considered the founder of Irish Christianity after converting the population from practicing a form of Celtic polytheism. He was the first bishop in Ireland and was soon considered the country’s patron saint, though he was never officially canonized. The Feast of St. Patrick, celebrated on the traditional day of his death, soon became a religious and cultural event and eventually a national holiday in the early 17th century. Largely because of the Irish diaspora, starting in 1845 with the potato famine, St. Patrick’s Day is now celebrated in more countries than any other national festival.

Source: vichie8/Shutterstock

Wearing green, parades, and partying occurs across the United States by Irish descendants and anyone wanting to be Irish for the day. The Chicago River is dyed green for the day, and New York’s parade is the largest in the world. Originally a day for family gatherings, silliness with the children, and religious significance, the bars used to be closed in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day. But heavy marketing by the alcohol industry helped commercialize the day, leading to the institution of the “pub crawl” and the continuous consumption of alcohol on the day. St. Patrick’s Day has become the fourth most-celebrated drinking day in America, right after New Year’s Eve, Christmas Day, and July Fourth.

After almost losing a member of his family to addiction in 2004, the award-winning theater and television producer William Spencer Reilly had had enough of the besotted nature of St. Patrick’s Day. He first proposed the idea of Sober St. Patrick’s Day® to leaders in the recovery and Irish American communities, which led a year later, to their 2012 inaugural party. “Now an annual event, Sober St. Patrick’s Day® is held on parade day in New York City. It continues to grow throughout the world.”1 “The mission of Sober St. Patrick's Day ® is to reclaim the true spirit of St. Patrick's Day by changing the perception and experience from an occasion for binge drinking and other misuse of alcohol to a celebration of the richness of Irish culture and the legacy of St. Patrick."2

My good friend Patricia O’Gorman, with whom I had the privilege of being one of the co-founders of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA, now the National Association for Children of Addiction), writes passionately about encouraging people to support Sober St. Patrick’s Day “…for their sake, and for the sake of their kids. [Because] 1) How you celebrate St Patrick’s Day is creating a family tradition, 2) Teaching your children to have sober fun is an important lesson, [and] 3) Your kids will do what you do more than do what you say.”3

One treatment center even offers suggestions for celebrating a Sober St. Patrick’s Day, saying, “Contrary to popular belief, there is more to St. Patrick’s Day than heavy drinking and wild partying, especially if you want to celebrate it in a way that is true to its heritage. As the season of green is fast approaching, the luck of the Irish can be with everyone, regardless of whether you drink or not. Pull out your four-leaf clover decorations and embrace the day with these… ways to celebrate without drinking a drop of alcohol.”4

  • Attend a parade, even virtually.
  • Cook a traditional Irish meal.
  • Listen to Irish music.
  • Learn an Irish dance.
  • Spend time with sober friends.

Ireland is an amazing, friendly, outrageously beautiful land. Its ancient scribes were responsible for saving most of the Latin and Greek literature we have today. Its culture is rich, its poets and writers are awesome, its warriors fierce, and its traditions worthy of respect and celebration. Happy Sober St. Patrick’s Day!






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