Each year, everyone becomes Irish for just one day. March 17th is St. Patrick's Day and people typically indulge in corned beef and cabbage, green beer and Irish coffees. For those who can't or choose not to drink, the party can seem somewhat lacking, but this doesn't have to be the case. There are plenty of ways to enjoy St. Patrick's Day sans green beer, whiskey and other types of alcohol.
Why Is St. Patrick's Day Celebrated?
Traditionally, St. Patrick's Day marked the anniversary of the death of Ireland's patron saint, St. Patrick. Little is known about his life aside from the work that earned him sainthood. St. Patrick is responsible for bringing Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century, using the three leaves of the native Irish clover to teach about the Holy Trinity. The Irish have celebrated the day for over 1,000 years, which was traditionally a day for praying and feasting.
Why Do People Drink On St. Patrick's Day?
The short answer is because drinking often occurred at celebrations, although in antiquity this had more to do with the safety of the water for drinking. As time went on (and clean drinking water was less of a concern) people would drink because they could.
Because the feast day falls during the religious season of Lent, which calls for Catholics to abstain from a variety of activities, including eating meat and consuming alcohol, people looked forward to the feast day in which they traditionally attended mass in the morning and then feasted, drank and danced in the afternoon and into the evening, although they could only drink at home.
The traditions of green beer and Irish coffees are uniquely American. Until the 1970's pubs in Ireland were mandated closed on St. Patrick's Day as it was a religious holiday. So those who want to celebrate an alcohol-free St. Patrick's Day are actually celebrating in the more traditional way than those who guzzle down the Irish themed spirits.
The Dangers Of Binge Drinking
There are a number of dangers associated with binge drinking, especially on festive holidays like St. Patty’s Day. Most people are aware that the liver processes about 90 percent of the alcohol that a person consumes. But alcohol has other affects on the body as well, and overloading the body with alcohol can have serious consequences. There are approximately 85,000 alcohol related deaths each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The human liver can only process about one drink per hour (one drink being a 12 ounce beer, a 5 ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits) and anything beyond that will cause the blood alcohol level to rise causing intoxication. Intoxication reduces inhibitions and impairs judgment, leading people to undertake a number of risks that they normally wouldn't including:
- Activities that could lead to a person being seriously injured or dying due to drunk driving, fires, falls, drowning or other injuries (nearly half of all alcohol related deaths each year are the result of drunk driving)
- Risky sexual behavior that could lead to unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases
- Falling victim to some type of violent crime including assault or sexual violence
Death from alcohol poisoning is also a very real possibility for those who take binge drinking to the extreme. Because alcohol depresses the central nervous system (CNS), binge drinking can depress the CNS to the point that people lose consciousness, stop breathing, and die. Those who are unconscious often begin to vomit and then choke to death.
Young people are particularly susceptible to the dangers of alcohol. Even though the legal drinking age is 21, research shows that the human brain doesn't finish developing until the mid-20's, which means that the college age crowd participating in the St. Patrick's Day bar crawls can be doing far more damage to their brain than they think.
The Alcohol-Free Party
There are many ways in which people can celebrate Ireland's patron saint sans alcohol. These are just some suggestions.
- Some communities are hosting alcohol-free and family friendly St. Patrick's Day events, such as the "Sober St. Patrick's Day" party in New York. The celebrations feature food, Irish step dancers, musicians and activities that highlight the true culture of Ireland instead of the stereotypical image that the Irish are heavy drinkers.
- Why not participate in a St. Patrick's Day marathon? It isn't necessary to be a super athlete as there are typically a variety of events that even children and the elderly can participate in. These marathons often benefit charities, which means that in addition for doing something good for the body, participants are also helping others. A great way to honor St. Patrick!
- Attend a St. Patrick's Day parade. Parades often feature a host of local talents and are great fun for the whole family. Often activities like face painting and carnivals round out the fun.
- If someone is hosting a party for St. Patrick's Day, they can substitute green beer with green colored soft drinks or juice drinks. Remember that many non-alcoholic drinks can be colored green with just a little food coloring.
- For some family oriented St. Patrick's Day fun, there are a many arts and crafts activities that can provide hours of fun for everyone.
St. Patrick's Day doesn't have to be a booze-filled binge in order to be fun. In fact, St. Patrick's Day can be just as much, if not more, fun when it is alcohol-free. What better way to celebrate Ireland's patron saint than with some good food and family; no alcohol needed?