Irish mother, German father and raised in Oslo: Why St Patrick's Day matters to my kids
Volunteers keep the celebration of Irishness alive all around the world
Carmel Stelzner’s son Alexander at the St Patrick’s Day parade in Oslo in 2017.
It is not long now until we Irish celebrate St Patrick’s Day, wherever we are. There will be parades, dressing up, excited kids, an abundance of green, parties, Mass, flag-bearing, Irish music and for many, a Guinness or two if it is available in their corner of the world.
Here in Oslo, next Saturday will be the culmination of months of planning. This is an aspect of St Patrick’s Day I had never really dwelled on until joining the organising committee three years ago.
I moved here from London five years ago with husband and two kids in tow. Following a chance happening upon the Irish community, I joined a group of Irish women one cold January 6th in a lovely Irish pub to celebrate Nollaig na mBan. After a great evening of Irish wit, wisdom and easy laughter, I was drawn into the Irish circle here. Soon after, I joined the organising committee for St Patrick’s Day in Oslo.
On a recent trip to London, I saw flyers for the St Patrick’s three-day festival next weekend, promoted in every tube station alongside tube maps and ticket information. It is promoted by the mayor’s office and the Mayor of London himself said in February that the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in London will celebrate the contribution that Irish people have made to the city for centuries.
We go back a long way, the British and the Irish.
The parade and celebrations here in Oslo are slightly more low-key than London and are run by the Irish community. I remember when I first discovered a St Patrick’s Day parade here. We were on a weekend break from London, before we moved here.
We all know that the Irish global reach is long and that we travel far from our small isle in the North Atlantic. Nonetheless, I was absolutely stunned to see Oslo police on horseback guiding a marching band, followed by hundreds of flag-waving Irish with families as they walked down the main shopping street on a busy Saturday afternoon.
Some Irish wolfhounds had even turned up for the day to walk the walk for their ancestors. Little did I know then that I would be walking down the street as a member of this community in just a few years.
Alive and thriving
A lot of work goes into keeping this great Irish celebration alive and thriving. The organising committee is totally reliant on volunteers to give their time and energy throughout the year. I’m sure this is the same for parades and St Patrick’s Day celebrations right across the globe.
The celebrations here in Oslo are always on the nearest Saturday before St Patrick’s Day. There is much to organise, from sponsorship, fundraising, marshals, logistics, permits from police and authorities, promotion and marketing. And the parade is only a part of the celebrations.
A lovely tradition here is an Irish mass in the main Catholic cathedral in Oslo, again organised by volunteers. The mass is in Irish and English, with joyous singing. It evokes lovely memories of going to church at home, meeting people you know and having a chat over a cup of tea afterwards.
The parade kicks off at noon, and with a booming Minstrel Boy coming from the leading band, it puts smiles on the faces of tourists and shoppers alike. Many of them reach for cameras to capture this bit of Ireland walking through. After the parade comes the public gathering at Universitetsplassen, just down from the Royal Palace, where the Irish Ambassador to Norway, the Grand Marshal and others speak about all things Irish.
Some Irish dancing and singing later, we all head off to an afternoon party in a beautiful old building which was once the Norwegian general post office. There, the eating and drinking begins, with a line up of local Irish talent and entertainment for the young and not so young.
It is fair to say that this year there will be full focus given to this until shortly after 4pm, when many may start glancing at phones to keep an eye on the score for the Ireland-England Six Nations rugby game. The Irish pub down the road will no doubt be full, given the day and the game.
The Irish living here have integrated to a greater or lesser degree, and life goes on as normal most days. But on this day of Irish celebrations, more than any other in the calendar, the Irish roots are rattling.
It is an important day, especially for kids such as mine with an Irish mother, German father and being raised in another culture altogether. As much as I enjoy it, I don’t need the Irish connection for validation, it’s all stitched up in my heart as it is who I am. For these little people, this day is when they get to see a great side of Ireland without getting on an airplane. Waving the Irish flag, feeling like they belong to Ireland too as they listen to Irish accents, humour, song, dance and experience sheer joy and celebration.
The St Patrick’s celebrations in Oslo were started many years ago by some tenacious women from Dublin who decided it needed to be done. Others have picked up the mantel and carried it on. They are always volunteers, always working hard throughout the year to pull it off and make it as entertaining and authentic as possible.
I have asked myself why we put in all that work and effort, but it is a pointless question, really. We do it because St Patrick’s Day is as much a part of us as Irish music and a limited lexicon of Irish words. We do it because it is great to take a day out to celebrate where we come from and share it with family and friends from where we have moved to. And of course, we Irish do love a party.