The United States is made up of many people from different lands who came searching for a better life of religious freedom in one way or another. Most of these were ethnic groups immigrating in masses who strived to become blended into the American melting pot but also held onto traditions that ultimately set them apart from others.
The catholic Irish Americans embraced the celebration of St. Patrick's day. It is a partly festive, partly religious holiday celebrated annually on March 17th. Each year church services are followed by parades and
parties commemorating the life of their patron saint and his gift of Catholicism to Ireland. Most Americans know of the festive part and can identify the wearing of the green with Irish pride, music, dancing, songs, and heroes represented in the parades.
The public celebration of St. Patrick began in New Haven 157 years ago, although it is believed that many Irish immigrants celebrated amongst themselves well before that. "The public celebrations of the day, which began in 1842 have always been more than just marching, singing, and dancing. They have been in reality a chronicle of the lives and times of New Haven's Irish people, a history of their causes and concerns, their hopes and fears, their triumphs and failures".1
The story of St. Patrick and the symbols associated with him (shamrocks, harps, shillelaghs, and the color green), have traveled and remained with the Irish since the first great waves of immigrants fleeing oppressive rule and desperately seeking economic opportunities landed in North America. Their land had been pervaded by English oppression, poverty, and horrific deaths brought on by the potato famine. The parade celebrates gaelic pride as well that found its way into a commingling of christianity and has persisted in New Haven and America when the Irish sought out land paved with gold during the 1840's and 1850's.
The proposed curriculum unit, St. Patrick-symbol of Irishness aims to familiarize students at West Hills Middle School with the story of Patrick, his abduction and escape, and finally his voluntary return to Ireland with a mission of christian conversion. They will study this through the history of the parade in New Haven and the symbols associated with it.
The history of the parade allows students to study early life for the immigrants and their contributions to society like fighting in the civil and revolutionary wars, gaining political clout, forming special organizations that have remained and influenced others, and planting the seeds of Catholicism firmly in American ground amid a sometimes hostile protestant majority. "It is easy for those of us who march in or watch the gala parades of the 1990's to forget that there was a time when it was dangerous for Irishmen to march through the streets of New Haven".2
Students will be encouraged to produce skits and enact their own parade in which the significance of wearing the green and donning buttons that read "Irish for the day" will be appreciated more because they have bee enlightened.