Monday, March 14, 2016

Was St. Patrick Italian?

Annamaria on Monday

My birthday on St. Patrick's Day is fast approaching. I say this not to elicit well-wishes (though I always enjoy receiving them), but to muse on the experience of having been born on a day famous for another reason.

Being of Italian descent, I was on track, as baby girls of my persuasion usually were, to be named after one of my grandmothers.  So I would likely have been called Sabina Maria or Concetta after my maternal and paternal grandmoms. But when I debuted on March 17th, my parents chose Patricia for me.*

* (An aside: Annamaria Alfieri is a pen name.  More about that next week.)

Having Saint Paddy’s Day as a birthday has a lot of advantages. For one, people don’t forget. When shamrocks show up on supermarket windows and on mirrors behind bars in drinking holes, my friends and family all know my birthday is coming. Also, my day has a color. Green has been my favorite all my life. Luckily it suits me. And these days calling any product or process green is a huge compliment. Best of all, everyone celebrates. What other birthday but the 4th of July comes with a parade? When I was four years old, my uncle told me the march on Fifth Avenue was in my honor.  On Thursday, midtown New York will fill up with revelers, giving my natal day a special jubilatory flair.

The only drawback for me has been that some Irish people have considered it a travesty that a Sicilian-Neapolitan-American should have chosen “their” day to be born. They think only people like my friend and fellow St. Patrick’s Day birthday holder Terrence Patrick O’Brien deserve to be born on March 17th. In the Catholic school cultural rivalries of my youth, I had to withstand a great deal of resentment—some of it not so benign. My brother Andy and my friend Danny Gubitosa leapt to my defense in a play-yard altercation one March 17th by claiming that St. Patrick was Italian—an assertion that only further enraged my detractors.

According to Wikipedia though, Danny and Andy were right, in a manner of speaking. Paddy was a Romano-Britain, and though the historical details of his life are sketchy, substantiated evidence reveals that as a 16 year old, he was abducted from Britain by Irish raiders and dragged off to Ireland to be a slave—not a very auspicious beginning for a relationship between Saint and faithful fated to endure for millennia. Patrick made it back home, and once ordained as a priest, he returned to Ireland as a missionary and prelate. The Irish still invoke him against snakes and witches.

Coat of Arms, Murcia
Why the following is true I leave you to ponder, but evidently St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated not only in Ireland and the Roman Catholic Archdioceses of New York and of Boston, but also in Nigeria, Montserrat, Loiza, a small town on the north coast of Puerto Rico, and Murcia, the capital of an Autonomous Community founded by Moors in the southeast of Spain.

This year's birthday is a significant number for me.  Here is a picture from my last such birthday.  The women with me are life-long friends.  At the party, the friends and family around me added up to 384 years of friendship.  My mother always said I was born on a lucky day.  Lots of things about my life have borne that out:  Long and dear friendships being the most precious of my blessings.


  1. 384 years of friendship is a good number from a programmer's point of view, too. It's 256 + 128 = 2^8 + 2^7.

    Now don't you feel even better?

    (Jump in any time, Jeff...)

    1. It seems that, from your formula, my powers are diminishing. Can we recast it as 128+256=2^7+2^8. I prefer to think of myself as good wine, getting better with passage of time. That is also true of some cheeses. But you will have to ask Jeff about that.

  2. Yes, the commutative law of addition allows you to get better with time (as I'm sure you are). As for cheesy subjects, I always defer to Jeff, of course.

  3. I leave you two alone for a couple of days and you turn into programing geeks, with a penchant for cheese whizzing each other.

    Happy Birthday, sis, and yes, they do celebrate your birthday in of the few days of the year when black & gold are not the color of the day.

  4. Happy Birthday (a day early) my dear friend!! I love that you're Patricia because of your birthday (a thing I never knew before!) and now I love that I can REMEMBER your birthday too!

  5. Happy Birthday to you and on to more years of good health, books, travel, food, wine and fun - and, of course, blogging.

    Interesting our family histories: My Irish great-grandmother's name was Sabina, too. I was not named after her but my middle name is Ellen, in tribute to my Russian/Jewish great-grandmother, Elke, who came here in 1913.