3 Reasons to Welcome the ‘tt’ in St. Patty’s Day

I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps something in my Irish-English-Polish(Jewish)-Scottish heritage and dirt-road, blue sky, tumble-weed, Montana upbringing, but I just don’t understand a lot of …. how should I put it? Conservatism? Orthodox traditionalism?

Now, today is St. Patrick’s Day.

This has always been a fun holiday for my family as yesterday (March 16th) is the birthday of my father, Patrick James Whitaker (where I get my Irish/English). Montana has a pretty large Irish population, as – as far as I know – the growth in immigration there coincided fairly well with the Potato Famine in Ireland in the mid-19th century. So, growing up there we celebrated by putting up our shamrocks, wearing our green, and pinching the poor souls who forgot. And, as across much of America, we often referred to the holiday as “St Patty’s Day.”

Gasp! Horror!

I’m not sure how long this atrocity has gone on, but now there is help: paddynotpatty.com:

Each and every year millions of Irish, Irish-ish and amateur alcoholics are needlessly distracted from their Holy Tradition of drinking themselves into a stupor in the name of Saint Patrick, a Roman Briton slave holding the dubious honour of bringing Christianity to an island that would use it as another convenient excuse to blatter the hell out of each other for centuries.

The source of this terrible distraction?

An onslaught of half-hearted, dyed-green references to St. Patrick’s Day as St. Patty’s Day.

It gnaws at them. It riles them up. It makes them want to fight… you know, more than usual.

IT’S PADDY, NOT PATTYEVER.

SAINT PATRICK’S DAY? GRAND.

PADDY’S DAY? SURE, DEAD-ON.

ST. PAT’S? AYE, IF YE MUST.

ST. PATTY? NO, YE GOAT!

Hold on. Here are three reasons to welcome the ‘tt’ in St Patty’s Day:

1) Gender

Gawker’s article on this is particularly vexing:

“Patty” is a woman’s name. The nickname used for a man named Patrick, for example, the man named Patrick who is credited with converting great swaths of Ireland to Christianity, is “Paddy,” from the Irish Padraig….

No, I Mean I Just Want to Call St. Patrick’s Day “St. Patty’s Day”

Well then you are just being willfully wrong. We have offered you knowledge and you have taken it, examined it, and deliberately rejected it.

“Patty is a woman’s name – Paddy is for boys” – what is this, the 3rd grade? While I have yet to meet a man named Patty, a friend of mine did point out that there is at least one woman named Paddy out there (she’s a writer based in my college town in Montana). I have meat Seans of both genders, and Kellys, and I would imagine a few others. Childhood is tough enough; we shouldn’t be reinforcing or encouraging gender-based bullying: “your parents are ‘willfully wrong’ – they gave you a boy’s (girl’s) name!”

Boys named Patty? Sure! Girls named Paddy? Sure!

A boy named Sue? (Well, be careful.)

2) Spelling

It’s only been about 80 days from the last holiday I apparently screw up in spelling (Xmas); and this year it seemed that conservative Christians were at their most resolute with baby Jesus everywhere under the banner “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Never mind that “X” or the Greek letter “chi”, along with ‘rho’ have long been Christian symbols. If only these contemporary Christians could go back and educate the Emperor Constantine on his ‘mistake’.

I’m just waiting for “Keep the Hallows in All Hallow’s Evening” signs and websites to start popping up. I’m not sure if it’ll be the Christian fundamentalists or the Pagans to do this first. (But when it happens, just remember, you read it here first.)

As an American living in England, I know well the slippery slope of ‘correct spellings’ of things (not to mention ‘correct’ pronunciations!). Luckily most sane people accept that ‘colour’ is the British English spelling and ‘color’ is American English. Nobody, to my knowledge, is still arguing that one or the other is ‘correct’ for everyone.The Gawker article goes on to reassure us, “If you’re American, the words [Patty and Paddy] are even pronounced in the same way. We’re just asking that you adopt the correct spelling, which, incidentally, is already phonetic.”

Ironically, the Gawker article begins with a big image stating “It’s dd GODDAMNIT.” If you’re going to teach us about spelling and tradition, don’t start off with a word like goddamnit.

3) Tolerance

Don’t get me wrong. I like a history lesson as much as the next person (I’m doing a PhD in a History department, FYI). But things change. A poor guy from England was denied entry to Sri Lanka yesterday because he has a Buddha tattoo, which is deemed disrespectful to the tradition. What good does that do? Teaches us about respecting Buddhist tradition? No. I think it’s more likely to make Sri Lankans look like intolerant fools. (We should hold judgment I suppose, as there could be more to the story than just a tattoo – but lest we forget that just last year three tourists were arrested for posing in pictures kissing Buddha statues.)

Yes we should try to be respectful of other people’s traditions, but we should also be kind and respectful when others violate our traditional norms.

Perhaps holidays like St. Patrick’s Day will draw out a mix of deep love for tradition in some and openness to innovation in others. As an American ‘mutt’ who identifies mostly with his Irish heritage (I sometimes joke that I’m half Irish, a quarter English, a quarter Scottish, and a quarter Polish), I think we can have both tradition and innovation as long as we mix in a healthy dose of tolerance.

That’s not to say ‘anything goes’ of course. I don’t think you’ll ever get away with spelling ‘colour’ as ‘oiaenUh’. But ‘color’ seems to be well accepted, and if Google is any indicator, ‘St Patty’s Day’ with its 86 million hits has become more common than ‘St Paddy’s Day’ with just under 54 million.

Lastly, while articles like this or the one at Gawker might be interesting, and the issue is apparently important enough for at least one person to have created a whole website, with a bit of tolerance we get to see that the most important thing is not the spelling or superficial observance, the most important thing is people getting on with their lives, celebrating and coming together. (As in this CBS News video: St. Patty’s Day celebration packs extra emotion.)

So, whether we speak with funny accents or misspell words or any other host of things that make us different and make us human, let’s celebrate.

PS. just in case I haven’t yet raised the ire of Irish fundamentalism, here’s a blasphemous and hilarious rendition of Danny Boy (recommended to me this morning by my Irish housemate – ‘real’ Irish, born and raised near Cork):

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  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/americanbuddhist/ Justin Whitaker

    It would probably be most accurate to say simply that “St Paddy’s Day” is the traditional abbreviation of St Patrick’s Day, while “St Patty’s Day” has become common in the US (and is likely spreading). If you say “Patty” is traditional, then you would be wrong.


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