Shamrocks, Sombreros, and the Stars and Stripes:
Ritual Drinking on Nationalistic Holidays and the Creation of Cultural Identity
This paper examines ritual drinking practices on the nationalistic holidays St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, and American Independence Day. The objective of this study was to understand how alcohol is used as a ritualistic tool during these holidays, and how extreme drinking is encouraged by participants as a mode of community formation. Employing anthropological methods, I conducted participant observations in Boston, Massachusetts at neighborhood bars on all three holidays and at a house party on independence day. Through these observations, it became clear that young adults celebrated these nationalistic holidays through ritualistic practices that included stylized modes of dress, the collection and use of material artifacts, the liminal experience of secular pilgrimage, and ritualized actions that facilitated processes of assimilation and acculturation.
there is so much here i want to discuss that i think we’re going to have to break the conversation up into segments so i don’t get lost.
this is the first part of an extensive series of posts, so please bear with me.
the origin story
i first had the idea to write an academic paper about drinking holidays while i was still working on my undergrad degree.
aptly, the idea came to me while i was at a bar, having a ridiculous brainstorm session with one of my best friends, ap. (one day, ap, i promise we’ll make our short film, “add and ocd go to a bar.” it’ll be epic.)
the first idea was broad, with no limit to holiday, no spatial or locational structure (though there was the passing mention of spending each holiday in its place of origin — carnivale in brazil, oktoberfest in germany, and so on). there was no theoretical framework, no discerning focus to direct the study.
and, like so many ideas, it remained an idea.
an amusing idea, an idea i hoped to pursue, but just an idea all the same.
and after a while, as my undergrad career ended and as life went on, i forgot all about it.
it wasn’t until three years or so later that i came back to the concept of completing an anthropological study of drinking holidays.
midway through my first semester as a graduate student at boston university i was faced with a quandary. because i was a full-time student and intended to remain so for my entire graduate career, i had to decide my class schedule and final track route almost as soon as i began the program. this may sound a little confusing, so let me break this down a little bit to be clear.
essentially, with the way boston university’s gastronomy program breaks down class credits, graduate students take ten classes. there are four required courses (anthropology of food, experiencing food through the senses, theory and methodology, and history of food). the rest of the classes are electives. along with the classes offered, students can also elect to do a four-credit thesis/project or an eight-credit thesis in lieu of one or two elective classes, respectively.
i knew early on that because i eventually plan to continue on into a phd program, i wanted to write a thesis. and so, when it came time for me to start thinking about planning my spring semester schedule, it was also necessary to consider how to handle my summer class registration.
i’m not sure when exactly i remembered the original drinking holiday study idea, but i believe it was either on or directly after halloween.
in fact, i’m pretty sure of this timing because i seem to remember thinking “expletive!! well, there’s no way i can do a participant-observation study for that holiday now!”
and while halloween was a wash, i was lucky to have remembered the idea when i did; it gave me enough time to discuss my idea over with the gastronomy program coordinator, rb. besides being wonderfully supportive, rb also agreed to be my thesis advisor.
it also gave me enough time to submit my proposal before the spring semester began. despite the fact that i wouldn’t register for the eight-credit thesis until the summer, because of the temporal nature of my study, i actually began work on my thesis in january.
we’re almost done with our origin story, but before we finish this up, i’d like to discuss the fluctuating nature of this paper, because it’s certainly been a theme throughout my experience writing it.
when i first approached rb with my general proposal, my idea was to write about drinking holidays, taboos, and social deviance. and while the drinking holidays certainly remained the central focus of my work, you can see simply from my title that social deviance and taboos did not. i still discussed elements of social deviance and taboo, but they certainly were not my linchpin.
i struggled for a good bit this past summer to be okay with that, and i don’t know if i can fully explain why. i got trapped by a working title, an idea that my paper was a square peg when it was really circular. and i also got caught in the trap that because i had written about ritual in anthropology before (in fact, i’d taken whole classes on it), i had to avoid it and write something entirely different.
in other words, i was an idiot.
but we can get to those troubles, and how i got over them, later.