As most of us are well aware, this week holds for us a special holiday. It is almost impossible to miss it; advertisements have been playing it up like crazy, stores have brought in special stock for the occasion, and people all around are trying to make impossible plans for it. Yes, that is right, friends and fellows. This Tuesday, February 14th, is everyone’s favorite holiday – Irish Potato Famine Celebration Day!
Now, almost everyone is familiar with the holiday’s existence and the current methods of celebrating it, but most people know only the most basic information, if that, about the origins of this great day. Interestingly enough, the beginning of the holiday has almost nothing to do with potatoes.
Long ago in Ireland, there was a saint named Bob. Saint Bob lived in the latter half of the second century, when there was apparently a little known, smaller, more localized famine somewhere in Ireland. Saint Bob happened to be living in that part of Ireland at the time and subsequently died of starvation. That is all history tells us for sure, although historians think they are getting close to finding his birth date. Nobody is even sure why or how Bob became a saint. However, apparently whatever he did was enough to get these vague details passed down in pubs for generations, because when the great Irish Potato Famine broke out, his stories suddenly grew more popular and were changed so that the famine included a many mentions of potatoes. On a fateful February 14th, 1857, one the Irish pub-goer decided that he was going to turn Saint Bob’s now heroic but completely unspecified and ever-changing death into his latest excuse to drink his troubles (and hunger) away, and declared the day now and forever as Irish Potato Famine Celebration Day.
As the Irish emigrated around the globe, they took with them this story of hope and bravery and the holiday followed close behind. Consequentially, methods of celebration have been mixed with the traditions and understandings (or lack thereof) of multiple cultures, leading to the festivities and traditions we enjoy today. The traditional colors are, of course, those of a potato, brown and green.
People have developed many different ways of interacting with potatoes on this day. Some like to go to restaurants and eat potatoes, be they mashed, baked, boiled, stewed, fried, turned into vodka, or even raw. People in this camp tend to present their potatoes with a variety of gifts in the form of condiments, including cheese, bacon bits, sour cream, and butter. Others prefer to visit potato farms, where they shower the potatoes with fertilizer and water. Both methods of celebration lead to inevitably packed restaurants and farms that are impossible to get into without a reservation and often unusually unpleasant places to be.
Of course, people do have the option of cooking potatoes at home or growing their own potato garden, but these choices are often considered cheap, though the lack of crowds and obligations to go anywhere has increased their appeal over the last several years. As Irish Potato Famine Celebration Day has evolved, its participants seem to have developed a bit of competition as to who can find the best gift for their potato. Restaurant-goers have been known to search long and hard for imported bacon bits and well-aged cheese, while farm-goers like to show off the name-brand or customized fertilizers and various types of mineral water they have. Alternatives traditionally used by the broke or cheap include hand-grated cheese and hand-churned butter, or homemade compost piles.
Depending on the mood and personality of the recipient potato, these alternate gifts are usually either cast aside as worthless trinkets or received warmly as sincere gestures of affection. After gifts are exchanged, celebrators engage in various activities with their potatoes. The activity itself is usually not considered as important as the simple act of togetherness, but common pursuits include watching grass grow, holding the potato close, listening to the potato hint about its friends who got better fertilizer or who are being held closer by their human counterpart, getting into a resultant fight, making up, and eating or re-planting the potato.
However, not everyone enjoys the festivities of Irish Potato Famine Celebration Day. Somewhat recently in fact, those who find themselves without a potato or just sick of the traditional celebrations have created a bit of a counter-holiday, known as CAD – Carrot Appreciation (or Awareness) Day. On Irish Potato Famine Celebration Day, these people gather together and engage in their own celebrations which are distinctly anti-potato. They sit around and eat carrots, make fun of potatoes, throw away or destroy any nearby condiments or fertilizer, try to convince themselves that crunchy, hard carrots are actually better than soft, warm potatoes, and occasionally break down and lament their lack of potatoes. There are some who choose to engage in such activities on their own, in which case the procedure is much the same, except they feel the need to let the world know about how cool and original they are with their CAD celebrations every five minutes on Facebook. Many enjoy these traditions ironically, while some engage in them as an attempt to distract themselves from their inability to get a potato or to seek solace in other potato-less souls. A handful of people actually do manage to enjoy the day in earnest, as they really do prefer carrots to potatoes, but these genuine souls are few and far between.
As evidenced by the CAD celebrators, not everyone enjoys Irish Potato Famine Celebration Day. However, while the CAD celebrators at least find solace in their carrots, there are those who absolutely despise the holiday and all of its associations (though, interestingly, neither they nor the CAD fans ever seem to take issue with the heavy discounts on condiments and fertilizer after the holiday ends). Some protest the extreme commercialism of the holiday, what with the overpriced potato skin cards, the crazily crowded restaurants and farms, and the obligation to get that special potato a suitably expensive gift.
Others take issue with the idea that this day above all others should be arbitrarily chosen as a day to appreciate potatoes. These people point out that they love potatoes year-round, and not only should they not be pressured to show their devotion on one random day of the year, but doing so tends to trivialize the importance of the potatoes which it claims to promote. Many who have no potato to call their own but who do not wish to engage in Carrot Appreciation Day are simply embittered by the entire concept of the holiday and the reminders which it brings. These, of course, are all valid points.
The strange part though, is that these people who claim to hate the holiday so much spend more time talking about it than those who enjoy it. As soon as Christmas ends, they roll their eyes at every brown or green thing they can find. They spend the month leading up to the day covering their ears every time a potato song comes on, and if you happen to be in the store with them when they first see the potato decorations go up, then you’ll probably get the privilege of hearing their rant about how stupid the entire concept is or has become. In all of their constant protests, they inadvertently advertise the holiday more than its proponents do, thus giving most industries even more reason to pour resources into acknowledging the holiday. It seems a bit counter-intuitive, but especially in a day and age when many advertising companies determine how they’re going to advertise by the amount of times something is mentioned online and in real life, it might be a bit more productive for those who cannot stand the holiday to simply ignore it. Anyhow, depending on your preference, happy Irish Potato Famine Celebration Day, or Carrot Appreciation Day, or day of competing to see who hates Irish Potato Famine Celebration Day the most!
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