My teenage son asked me why so many people get drunk on St. Patrick’s Day. Recognizing a teachable moment, I stopped what I was doing and thought about his question. I didn’t know the answer, so we went online and got a WikiAnswer:

Traditionally the Irish drink during wakes to honor the dead. Saint Patrick’s day is celebrated on the day it is thought Saint Patrick died… making the holiday similar to being at his wake. This makes drinking a natural choice.

Traditionally the Irish drink during wakes to honor the dead. Saint Patrick’s day is celebrated on the day it is thought Saint Patrick died… making the holiday similar to being at his wake. This makes drinking a natural choice.

I said, “There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a drink or two to celebrate a holiday when you are the legal drinking age.” Then, in my best Irish brogue, “As a mater of fact, I look forward to raising a glass and sipping a wee bit ‘o green beer to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day… but getting drunk is a not the way to honor St. Patrick—especially since Patrick himself didn’t drink.”

According to the book How The Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, in addition to his faith, Patrick’s sobriety was one of the reasons why he was so effective at converting Ireland from a land of chaos to a land of peace.

“Beneath the bravado of this warrior society, constantly brandishing its flesh-destroying weapons, rumbles a quaking fear… drunkenness was the warrior’s customary prelude to sleep.”

My son and I imagined the Irish warrior tribes, huddled around flickering fires at night, drinking fermented potatoes, getting totally wiped-out to cope with their fear, while Patrick slept soundly without having had a drop.

“Patrick’s peace was no sham: it issued from his person like a fragrance. And in a damp land where people lived and slept in close proximity, everyone would have known sooner or later if Patrick’s sleep was brought on by the ‘goddess of intoxication’… Patrick slept soundly and soberly.”

This little known fact really made a strong impression on us. What a great example to follow, not just for the people of his time, but for people living in the year 2014.

I spoke the language of virtues and said, “Wow, we’ve got to honor St. Patrick for his confidence and courage to resist the ‘goddess of intoxication’ and instead rely on his faith in a higher power to comfort him during those violent times.

I continued to engage my son, delving deeper into the topic of why so many people get drunk on St Patrick’s Day, “It’s not just during holidays and celebrations that people drink.” I said. “You’ll find out when you become an adult that life is really difficult and scary at times. Just like the warriors of St. Patrick’s time, when a person drinks excessively, it’s usually because of an underlying insecurity or fear.” I told him, “Overcoming fear is one of life’s greatest challenges. There will be times in your life when you’ll feel down and out because you think you’re a failure. At times you’ll feel lonely or afraid. It may be because of financial concerns. Or maybe you said something mean and hurt someone’s feelings. Sometimes we do and say terrible things to the people we love the most, damaging the relationship beyond repair. Then we regret the past. Many people worry about the future, which negatively affects how they feel in the moment.  They feel like they’re not enough and suffer from low self-esteem. If somebody feels like they’re not worthy of love they become very sad, and they may start drinking to make the hour ‘happy’, or take drugs to fill the void. What starts as a form of mental dis-ease can develop into a physical addiction and a long-term sickness.”

“Adults aren’t the only ones who have to deal with fear in their life.” My son said, the intensity in his voice growing with each word. “It’s not easy being a teenager. We have growing pains, peer pressure, parental expectations, the demands of high school, not to mention the f-ing anxiety over the college application process!”

I’m not a prude, but when he dropped the f-bomb, I seized the opportunity to set clear boundaries and reminded him of our family ground rules. “You can do what you want around your friends, but around your mother and me, and other adults, please be considerate and practice some respect, okay?”

I bridged back to what he said; he had raised some serious issues and concerns about being a teenager. Honoring his spirit, I acknowledged his honesty and truthfulness, and thanked him for sharing his feelings with me. I asked him if he thought teenage pressures led to underage drinking and drug use. He paused for a moment, “Most kids want to act out and be bad, but they don’t want to take responsibility for their actions, so they drink or take drugs, and when they act stupid they blame it on being wasted.”

This is what 2 beers, 2 shots of Captain Morgan, 2 shots of apple pie moonshine, 2 shots of whiskey, and a handful of liquor soaked blueberries looks like on a 16 year old.
This is what 2 beers, 2 shots of Captain Morgan, 2 shots of apple pie moonshine, 2 shots of whiskey, and a handful of liquor soaked blueberries looks like on a 16 year old.

I asked him if he and his friends were aware of the dangers of alcohol poisoning and teenage binge drinking. I showed him a graphic Facebook post that had gone viral. I could tell it had a powerful affect on him. Nothing else needed to be said. We sat silently. I put my hand on his shoulder, offering companionship.

He left to go meet some friends. Maybe he would share some of what we had discussed. Maybe he would show them the Facebook post about a girl that was lucky to be alive. I hoped he would.

Later that night while preparing dinner, I made one last comment, “We have the freedom to choose, son. We can choose to fear life and look for an escape, or we can choose to view life where every challenge is an opportunity to grow.” I said, “No one is perfect.” Then I added with complete conviction, “But we owe it to ourselves to reach for a higher level of awareness and make choices that have a positive effect in our lives and the world.”

We can win the battle against fear. We can achieve “Victory via Virtues!”

Courage transforms our fear into determination. We can embrace life fully, without holding back, and do what must be done even when it is difficult or risky. We can practice courage and say “no” when offered drugs and alcohol, even at the risk of losing a friend.

Moderation is being content with enough. It’s using self-discipline to create balance in our lives and to keep from overdoing it, especially if we choose to indulge in addicting substances (like chocolate cake!).

Self-discipline is the self-control to do only what we truly choose to do, without being blown off course by our desires or the negative influence of others. It takes self-discipline to be the best we can be, but it’s better than having someone else discipline you—like a nagging parent telling you to clean your room or a boss putting calling you on the carpet because you didn’t fulfill your responsibilities.

Confidence is a sense of assurance that comes from having faith in ourselves and in life. When we are feeling sad and fearful in life, confidence allows us to trust that we have the strength to cope with whatever happens.

My son had enough. I’ll save the other Virtues from A to Z for another time. We served up dinner, opened the laptop and logged onto Hulu.com. We ate in silence, with an occasional outburst of laughter as we watched a recent episode of Saturday Night Live.


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  3. Moderation is so important in so many areas of life, and it’s a very important thing to teach to younger people because too much of a good thing is so tempting when you don’t fully understand the consequences.

    Saint Patrick’s Day is, very much like Cinco de Mayo, a social holiday. It is often celebrated in pubs and bars where large numbers of people gather to drink. Now many people gather in groups to drink on a regular basis after work, but with larger gatherings on major holidays, the danger is in staying longer and drinking more than usual.

    That’s why it’s more important when you’re lost in the moment and having a good time to be aware of and practice moderation. When the music is playing, friends are laughing and beer and/or spirits are flowing freely, it’s very easy to get caught up in the revelry and lose track of how much you’ve consumed.

    I counsel awareness to my children. Be aware that others are partying excessively on days like St. Patrick’s. Be aware of your own limitations and excess and, if necessary, walk off that extra beer or shot. Wait a little while to drive home. Have a bite to eat, or enjoy some extra time talking with a friend over a glass of water or a cup of coffee. This seems like good practical advice – especially to those who are just starting to partake in adult customs and traditions.

    I hope my two cents helps to inspire or educate a few people.

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