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IRISH HOLIDAYS/AMERICAN HOLIDAYS

It started innocently enough.  This morning I casually mentioned that Thursday is Ground Hog Day.  My Irish Mister asked “What’s that?”  Now, have you ever been able to explain Ground Hog Day and not sound like a complete idiot?  No?  Well, listening to myself I realized I couldn’t manage it either!  So we began discussing other holidays in both countries.

We’ll work our way through the year and share the similarities and differences.  New Year’s Eve in Ireland is very like New Year’s Eve here in the US…..lots of house parties, parties in pubs, parties and dances at hotels with many people booking hotel rooms to avoid “drink driving” as the penalties are often more severe there.  And, yes, they also sing Auld Lang Syne at midnight…at least the chorus, just like here!   (Does ANYBODY really know all the words?)  New Year’s Day the partying continues, in fact, sometimes they never even stop drinking til late in the evening on the first.

No Martin Luther King Day in Ireland in January.  The “silly season” starts about 10 days before Christmas and continues through New Year’s and virtually nothing gets done.  So January is the time to get back to work.

Valentine’s Day is the same everywhere.  No President’s Day in Ireland.  Here, it’s the third Monday in February, another 3 day weekend.  (I remember getting both Lincoln’s Birthday on the 12th and Washington’s on the 22nd off from school.  We’re getting cheated by only having one birthday party!)

March brings my favorite holiday…..St Patrick’s Day, of course, on the 17th.  We’re pretty content here to make a day and night of drinking, wearing green and trying to speak with a fake brogue wishing everyone “The luck of the Irish be wit ye”.  Now, of course, the Irish drink all the time (except for the Pioneers, but that’s another story for another time), wear green, on average, about as often as anyone anywhere and speak with authentic brogues and accents that differ from one part of the country to another.  However, they party for a full week complete with parades, Masses and even more live music than usual.  Truly the luck of the Irish! Surprisingly, Mother’s Day also is celebrated in March with the obligatory flowers, candy and cards.

Easter is a solemn religious event in both countries and  the Easter Bunny makes his annual appearance right on time in both places, as well.  Speaking of trying to explain a holiday, where exactly does the rabbit fit into the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection???

Also in April is the commemoration of the anniversary of the Easter Uprising on April 18, 1916.  It was a failed revolution but was the first Proclamation of Independence from Britain.  The execution of the martyrs of the uprising so infuriated the general population that they began to rally to the side of the rebels, leading, in 1922, to independence.  The third Monday in April is Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts.  Why does this matter?  Because if Tax Day, April 15, falls on a Sunday, then you have until the 16th to file your income tax return; however, this year the 16th is Monday, the IRS office in Massachusetts is closed and so you have until the 17th and it would be discriminatory to only allow residents of New England the extra day, so everyone gets until April 17 to file this year.  Oh, and I just found out it’s also Emancipation Day in Washington, DC, so the same deal holds.  (Ground Hog and Easter Bunny aren’t seeming quite so ludicrous, huh?)

May 1st is May Day or Labour Day in Ireland.  Memorial Day in the US falls on the last Monday of the month (remember when it used to be May 30 every year?).  Also beginning in May, communities and parishes in Ireland begin observing “Cemetery Sundays” and these continue until the fall.  On the specified Sunday, friends and relatives attend special Masses and visit the graves of those who have passed away,  to show respect and often leave flowers and plants.  These Sundays are staggered throughout the summer so as not to cause traffic congestion and to allow people to visit the different cemeteries where they might have loved ones.

The first weekend in June in Ireland is the June Bank Holiday.  This is essentially a Monday-off 3 day weekend, like a federal holiday here.  And boy do the Irish love it and take advantage of the finally lovely weather!  Father’s Day is celebrated on the third Sunday in June in both countries.

July 4th is, of course, our Independence Day complete with parades, picnics and fireworks.  The poor Irish don’t even get a Bank Holiday in July, it’s Britain’s turn.  But they do enjoy an upturn in the economy due to the influx of tourists hoping to enjoy the fine Irish summer weather.  Right, that can be a real crap-shoot.  Last  summer was the coldest on record in Ireland and, I for one, lived mainly in jeans, sweaters and the occasional jacket.  It was very unusual and I’m looking forward to better this summer.

August begins with another 3-day Bank Holiday weekend.  The days are still really long, with sunset around 10 p.m. and the Irish relish the extra hours of daylight to enjoy themselves.  The only US holiday I can think of is Bennington Battle Day on August 16, but I don’t think that’s even celebrated anymore.

Our Labour Day, the first Monday in September, is the unofficial end of summer and the nights start closing in on both sides of the Atlantic.  Ironically, after the children in Ireland return to school, the weather is often the most gorgeous and warmest of the summer….truly delightful!

October is a special month for me, crammed with the birthdays of my daughter, 2 sisters, stepmother, 2 best friends, etc.  The rest of you, in Ireland or the US probably rank Halloween as one of your favorite holidays, as well it should be.  When else can you eat all that leftover candy (maybe you bought it on sale on November 1????) and not feel guilty?  Of course, Columbus Day gives us another 3 day weekend. Whether you believe he deserves the honor or not, I’ve never heard of anybody refusing to take the day off.

November 11 is celebrated in many countries by many names.  In the US, it’s Veteran’s Day, in Ireland, it’s Poppy Day.  The day, of course, commemorates the signing of  the Armistice which ended the War to End All Wars in 1918.  The red poppy is worn in remembrance of  all the lives sacrificed in all wars.  At the end  of November we in America are thrilled to celebrate a National Day of Thanksgiving, which was first established by President George Washington.  The date was changed by several presidents, including Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, but on 12/26/41, Congress made it officially the 4th Thursday of November.  For us, it means football, turkey, pumpkin and mince pies.  And, hopefully, everyone does remember to give thanks for all of our abundance.  It is also the start of our AMERICAN silly season, which lasts right through until January 1. or 2.  Or 3.

December…….. Christmas!  A time of joy throughout the Christian and Orthodox world.  A time of partying, shopping, eating, baking, enjoying friends and family.  My tradition for 12/24, here in Florida,  is to have an early dinner, attend a candlelight service at Jupiter First Church, go home to listen to Christmas music (I ONLY  listen to it Christmas Eve) and watch my DVD of a burning fireplace on the big screen.  Mister wanted to stop and have a few drinks after the Candlelight Service.  I had no problem with that, but as you know, it is virtually impossible to find an open bar on Christmas Eve. (Check out “Auld Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg)  He was absolutely shocked as that is the busiest night of the year for Irish pubs!  Search we did, to no avail, so we returned home and maintained the tradition, enjoying some adult beverages.  Christmas Day in Ireland, one sits down to a huge feast at home.  Going out is not an option, as all the restaurants and pubs are closed.   For many years, I did the huge feast thing, too.  Now that it is  just the two of us, I find the very elegant and extensive buffet at a local resort to be perfectly satisfactory.  The day after Christmas is simply December 26 here, maybe an extra day off.  In Ireland, it’s St Stephen’s Day, a day of visiting, feasting, perhaps spending time in the local and hearing  Wren Boys singing and performing.  And the pubs do a grand bit of business then.  After all, it’s still the silly season.

Irish Presidential Election Results

And, the winner is………….Michael D Higgins.  The tiny, frail, anti-America, anti-Israel, ardent socialist will occupy the largely ceremonial office of President of the Republic of Ireland for the next 7 years.  Having been the leader in the polls until 2 weeks ago, when he was surpassed by Sean Gallagher, he ran a generally positive campaign based, as he often claimed, on “ideas”.  His one exception was to bash Martin Mc Guiness, as each of the candidates eventually did.  As a Labour TD for the past 25 years (he stepped down earlier this year) and a former Minister for Culture in the 1990s, Higgins showed he was the consummate politician, winning almost 40% of the 1st preference votes and ending up with a total of over 1 million votes when all the transfers were counted.  This 4th attempt at the presidency seems to have been won just in time given his age and health.

How did the rest of the not-so-Magnificent Seven fare?  This time, I’ll list them in order of preference….not mine but the voters of Ireland.  (Less than 50% of those eligible to vote did so.  The great anger, disgust and mistrust of “government” is pervasive.)

SEAN GALLAGHER,  the Independent who surged to the forefront of the polls in recent weeks, was over-confident in the end.  Although he offered youth and vigor (his wife was quoted as saying they were looking forward to having and raising their children in the Aras and seeing them run around in the Phoenix Park) he stepped off the pedestal to take his potshot at Mc Guiness and question his suitability for the presidency.  This ultimately led to his downfall.  On Sunday, 23 October, Gallagher had a 15 point lead in the polls (40%).  During a live television debate on Monday, the 24th , Mc Guiness asked if he had personally solicited and collected funds on behalf of the now-toxic Fianna Fail party, specifically from a “convicted tax evader and former Provisional IRA  member”.  Gallagher’s shock and subsequent waffling over the answer, as well as his inevitable acknowledgement that he had and had in fact been a “bagman” for the despised FF sealed his fate as he was revealed as “just one more of the same”.  He ended up far behind Higgins but has said he will continue to pursue a career in politics, although under what auspices is not clear.

MARTIN MC GUINESS is probably very thankful to be returning to his office of Deputy First Minister (co-Prime Minister) of Northern Ireland.  His sabbatical from that office was the polar opposite of restful!  Despite being assaulted constantly (by the media, other candidates and a handful of the public) and accused of  involvement and complicity in 40 years worth of bombings, executions and murders, he retained his grace under pressure.  With the exception of his above-mentioned questioning of Gallagher, he ran a campaign focused on the issues of inequality, unity and the need for change.  The man who abandoned the bomb and the bullet decades ago and successfully achieved peace in the North of Ireland, through negotiation, has my utmost respect and admiration.  And, with over a quarter of a million (265,196) votes cast for him, others apparently feel the same way.

GAY MITCHELL  The man who was the candidate of the party in power, Fine Gael, failed to gain the confidence of the electorate.  His 2 plank platform of  “Martin Mc Guiness is evil” and “I am an ultraconservative career politician and Martin Mc Guiness is evil” just didn’t work and the “invisible man” remained so.  His dismal showing does not bode well for the fate of Fine Gael in the next general election.  He came in a distant fourth.

DAVID NORRIS  Norris’s late re-entry into the race provided  a bit of drama.  The Irish people, despite their slightly xenophobic, homophobic, racist, Catholic leanings, are ultimately very fair and just.  The facts that Norris is half-British and speaks with a British accent, has had a number of foreign homosexual partners and is a Protestant really didn’t seem to matter. The public overwhelmingly felt that he deserved a chance to run for the presidency;  they just didn’t choose to vote him into the office.  This probably had less to do with his questionable judgement in the past but more with the 16 years of disability payments he collected while working as a full-time Senator.  That and the fact that the value was triple the amount that he originally claimed.  Seems like it always comes down to money……………..

DANA ROSEMARY SCALLON, the dual citizen whose family’s dirty laundry is being aired for all the world to see, failed in this, her second, attempt for the presidency.  Garnering a feeble 51,000 votes, one hopes she returns to her successful singing career.  But the family drama continues.  The niece who was allegedly abused by Scallon’s brother has gone to the police in Britain and this weekend he is being questioned about the events of the 1970s.  She is also bringing  defamation suits against Aunt Dana and the television station which aired her comments denying the niece’s claims.  Another brother has come out against Dana saying she’s can’t be a good Christian because she hasn’t visited him during his illness of many years.  Also, unfortunately, Dana’s car suffered a blow-out while returning from a campaign event.  Her husband immediately claimed that “they” were out to injure or murder them.  Gardai say it was just a flat tire.  The soap opera continues.  Dana needs to keep singing that song “All Kinds of Wonderful”.

MARY DAVIS  First thought to be a shoe-in to complete the trinity of “Sainted Marys of the Aras”, she has finished dead last.  The title of “Queen of the Quangos” stuck and, despite her denials, she was seen as offering just more of the same as the corrupt Fianna Fail party.  Her campaign posters showed a lithe, confident woman with a youthful face and beautiful teeth in a Special K red dress.  Perhaps when voters encountered the baggy eyes, the badly stained and crooked teeth, the slightly dumpy physique they realized that you can’t always judge a book by the pretty cover.  Just another case of what you see is not necessarily what you’ll get.

So, the race for Uachtaran na hEireann is over for, hopefully, another 7 years.  Truthfully, after observing this one, I can’t see why anyone would subject themselves to such a brutal contest.  But, by 2018, I will have dual citizenship and you can be sure that I’ll be casting my vote.

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