By Winston Tay
Its history goes back centuries, yet its evolution not so clearly documented; when you want to talk about how St Patrick’s Day found its way into Singapore, Wikipedia simply will not cut it. The death anniversary of the British-born, Ireland-based bishop, which should actually have been observed today, has transitioned from being a religious affair, to a cultural celebration, to just a really good excuse to eat, drink and be merry, while literally going green all along the Singapore River.
But therein lies the confusion, the misinformation, and a problem that grows larger, more dire, and more ridiculous as well, threatening to cast a shadow over any and all celebratory events in Singapore.
The Singapore chapter of St Patrick’s Day is actually pretty young still; Peter Ryan, the then First Secretary of the Irish Embassy, had only just begun work in Singapore and was looking for a way to get to know the locals, particularly through the strong and tight-knit alumni at St Patrick’s School. Through the combined efforts of the Embassy, the band of Singaporean Patricians – and as the years progressed, SJI’s Josephian alumni as well – and the local Irish community, Singapore saw its first of many St Patrick’s Day Parade turn the Singapore River into a jolly stream of green (and usually sponsored by Guinness) every year for the last 10 years.
Now, despite its namesake, the St Patrick’s Day we see here isn’t really premised on religion at all, and if you delve deeper into the crowd that happily participates in its festivities, not that Irish, either. As St Patrick’s Day got installed over various global (and interstellar?) locations like New York, Japan and the International Space Station, the celebration adopts a cultural inclusiveness that doesn’t take anything away from its cultural identity. And in Singapore this year, the Parade went all out, at one point giving a band of urumi drummers led by M Ravi a place in the middle of the Parade (and they were actually pretty damn good).
I mean, for crying out loud, they even got Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) to close the Parade with a Thai traditional dance.
And in case you were wondering what the road closure was for…
So at the heart of Saint Patrick’s Day in Singapore are three main tenets: family, friends and feasting. Of course, it helps even more if you happen to be a fan of Green Lantern and the Incredible Hulk (both of whom aren’t Irish, either).
But let’s be completely honest here, life in Singapore hasn’t exactly been a bed of fresh green roses, has it? Particularly when one of our own local festivals, one the Blogfather had a special place in his heart for, was marred by an unfortunate incident that was just as unfortunately managed in the public eye on many fronts since.
Even more unfortunate is that the failings of one incident can have such a far reaching effect that it has managed to permeate into every festival, parade and procession that has followed. Such is the power of the red that we see; such is the recklessness of the anger that blinds us.
We have to stop doing this; we do no one any favours by being this ugly towards our world, least of all ourselves as a nation. Seriously, how far would we get in trying to create a more open society, when we then turn around to shut out other parts of our society that would otherwise help us prove we are capable of being an open society in the first place? It makes absolutely no sense.
Ironically, the most valuable lesson that was dealt last weekend didn’t come from the online voices of disgruntled Singaporeans, trying to speak up for the mistreatment of our minority groups. We were, instead, schooled by another, otherwise unrelated minority group, mostly adorned in green, who really doesn’t care what colour anyone wore, only that everyone feels welcomed and loved, in the spirit of family and friendship.
50 years on, Singapore still has a lot to learn about being one united people, regardless of race, language or religion.
This blog post was originally published on “The Blogfather”. Winston works for the appointed PR agency for the St Patrick’s Day Parade and Street Festival, but he was not involved in the handling of this account. Much of this information was sourced through his own communications with the people involved and his own experience of the event.