CLAIRE:

My dad is traveling in China this week, so I'm taking over the column – and it's a good thing, too, because as a full-blooded Italian man, my dad knows little of what I'm about to say.

This weekend I'll be spending Saint Patrick's Day like so many other Americans: knocking back Guinness and shots of whiskey in a bar. Several hundred other drunken fools, all wearing green and probably speaking in offensive faux-Irish accents, will most likely join me in mocking a once solemn religious holiday. After all, how else might one choose to venerate the great Saint Patrick? By being sober? Praying? Going to church? Please.

And there's a generation gap if I ever saw one – or, more to the point, perhaps it's a cultural gap. Because thirty-some years ago, despite the pervasive image of the drunken Irishman, the last place most Americans would have wanted to be on Saint Patrick's Day was in Ireland, where all the bars were closed and everyone honored the beloved saint's day in respectful sobriety. The color originally associated with Saint Patrick was blue, not green, and a three-leafed shamrock represented the Holy Trinity, rather than the four-leafed plant we don nowadays for luck.

It's a far cry from what the celebration looks like today – with our beer and our rivers dyed green, with our "Irish I Were Drunk" and "Kiss Me I'm Irish" T-shirts. (After all, on Saint Patrick's Day everyone is Irish!) Not to mention our copious consumption of alcohol and the more dastardly bastardizations of Irish culture, such as the McDonald's Shamrock Shake. As with so many holidays – Easter and Valentine's Day, I'm looking at you – the original intent has been somewhat obscured by consumerism and an increasing appetite for overindulgence.

Just ask Seamus Boyle, president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, the largest Irish American organization in the United States. He recently lambasted the clothing store Urban Outfitters for selling hats that depict drunks vomiting shamrocks and so-called "Leprechaun Piss Jugs," claiming that the items defame the culture they're meant to represent. Half Irish myself, I can't blame the guy for being pissed (if you'll excuse the pun), but let's face it: these stereotypes go way beyond a single overpriced clothing store.

Because isn't that our way, as Americans? Very little is sacred, and when it comes to cultural awareness, let's just say we're not well known for it. But you know what? If Easter can be reduced to a day of munching on the heads of chocolate bunnies and Valentine's Day nothing more than an excuse to force one's boyfriend into buying something pointless and expensive, then I have to say that I'm not displeased with what Saint Patrick's Day has become. At least it captures the spirit of the culture that brought us the best whiskey, the culture that inspired The Boondock Saints and Flogging Molly and Leonardo DiCaprio to try out an Irish accent. It may not be a particularly noble holiday, but it's a vibrant one – the beer, at least, is vibrantly green.