St. Patrick’s Day is an American holiday, but I’m not sure what it’s about. It is about the color green to be sure, with cupcakes stuck with plastic shamrocks and foil-wrapped coins, a string of green Mardi Gras beads to ward off pinchers and/or wearing a green shirt. It is not about Ireland. It is not about religion or politics or being Irish.

We’re at the outside mall yesterday and nearly everyone is in green. It was like stepping into a movie set, a sensation that was only enhanced by the gigantic synthetic stone horse in front of an upscale chain Chinese restaurant and the buskers and the early summer weather.

St. Patrick’s Day in NYC was about jubilance, police barriers, green beer and Kiss Me pins, it was about Irishness in a city then full of Blarney Stone bars. In London, it was a theme in pubs and, with the city still in the clutch of winter bleakness, offered a reason to drink Guinness or Harp.

Here, in Alabama, or at least in our town, it seems to be a symbolic thing about a color. What’s striking about the green shirts that everyone’s wearing is that they are just that: green shirts. There are no slogans on them. Normally, on a Saturday at the mall, you would see people in team colors, commemorative National Championship jerseys, crimson, orange, navy, purple. And T-shirts, athletic or otherwise, normally are about something, teams or 5K charity runs. There is restraint and unity in so many plain green shirts. And the fact that they are in so many shades and styles have a charm almost akin to a homemade Halloween costume.

I had worn a green, more of a teal, shirt by accident, but out there in the agora, I blended in. Lucky accident, I thought, but why? Because I resembled a person who was sharing a rare moment of zeitgeist? If I had worn pink, would I be making a statement against the idea of green? Why did the Japanese couple we recognized from my daughter’s school wear green?  Did they discuss it that morning? Had someone told them it was an American tradition? So for them maybe green was worn out of respect for local culture?

The unadorned shirts surely are imprinted with an invisible ink message, but I have left my decoder pen in my other bag. We leave the mall, having this day fulfilled the societal obligations of sports and shopping, as well as an inadvertent participation in something that unifies a diverse group of people with a range of national origins and beliefs.


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