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The Sober Guide to St. Patrick’s Day Food, Drink and Parties

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You don't need green beer to have a good time ...

St. Paddy’s Day is almost here, and Irish bars all over the world are preparing for a profitable night. Meanwhile, police officers and emergency workers are getting ready to pull grueling overtime as they deal with pub brawls, DUIs, alcohol-influenced injuries, drunken emotional displays, public indecency and gutters overflowing with all manner of human waste in an effort to minimize the fallout.

St. Patrick’s Day and drunken debauchery did not always go hand-in-hand, as they seem to today. The holiday began as a simple Catholic feastday celebrating the patron saint of Ireland. Over time, the feast day was co-opted by secular culture and turned into a celebration of the worst of Irish stereotypes — the feisty drunken brawler who is always up for another round at the pub and won’t stop until he passes out, starts seeing Leprechauns or gets thrown in the drunk tank to dry out before returning to polite society.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m no prohibitionist. I’m all for raising a celebratory pint or two in honor of St. Patrick if you want to. But like most adults with kids, I’ve grown out of the binge drinking and reckless behavior that taint almost every public celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. This year, I’ll be joining the ranks of the loneliest club there is — the one that celebrates the feastday stone cold sober.

But celebrate I will. Far be it from me as a Catholic to turn down a church-sanctioned excuse to party during Lent. After a long, gray winter and several weeks of Lenten penance, I’m as ready to blow off some steam as the next girl. So here are a few ways we teetotalers can celebrate St. Paddy’s feast day … all totally alcohol-free.

  • Wear green. (Okay, this one is obvious, but it’s also important to remember. Getting pinched sucks!)
  • Fake it (or don’t). It’s just as easy to drop some green food coloring in a glass of O’Doul’s as it is to partake of the pitcher of green beer the rest of the table is sharing. But you can also dye a lot of other things green, from milk to sparkling apple cider to things like pancake batter and cupcake mix. Green beer isn’t a necessary part of the St. Patrick’s Day tradition (in fact, I think it’s kind of gross).
  • Attend one of the growing number of “Sober St. Patrick’s Day” events cropping up in cities all over the world. These family-friendly parties were started in 2012 in New York City by Bill Reilly, an Irish American television producer and recovering alcoholic, after he saw a young man, drunk by noon at the city’s official parade, wearing a T-shirt that read “St. Patrick’s Day today; hungover tomorrow” and grew disillusioned with the sloppy reputation he felt the booze-themed events were giving his heritage. “I hate those derogatory T-shirts,” Reilly told the New York Daily News. “But it suddenly occurred to me that maybe we could show the Irish in a good light instead of a bad light. The Irish have so much to be proud of, great culture, great history and great people — why let the world think of us as a bunch of drunks?” Since Reilly launched the sober celebration, it has expanded to six more locations, including Dublin, Belfast, Philadephia, Richmond, northern Ohio and Casper, WY.
  • Share a traditional Irish meal with your family or friends. Corned beef and cabbage, though not actually Irish, is always a favorite, or you could go for shepherd’s pie, or Irish lamb, mutton or beef stew. While most stew recipes you’ll find online call for a pint of Guinness to flavor the broth, this alcohol-free recipe claims to be more authentic: “Alcohol of any kind would never have been added to Irish stew and should never be added to Irish stew,” the recipe’s author writes. “Does anyone really think early Irish people had access to Guinness? And even if they were lucky enough to have access to it, does anyone honestly think it would have been ‘wasted’ in food or to waste food? No. Certainly not.” Hmm. It’s hard to argue with that. In any case, whichever main dish you choose, don’t forget the Irish soda bread to sop up all the hearty goodness.

As he brought new faith to Ireland
so may he bring out in you
a touch of Irish kindness
in everything you do.
And through the good St. Patrick
may your home and life be blessed
with all the special favors
that make you happiest.

—St. Patrick’s Day blessingadapted from a blessing by the Norbertine Fathers

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