The 17th of March is St. Patrick's Day in Ireland. A day of festival fun, partying and of course, the parade; a display of colourfully dressed people, tri-colour flags and shamrocks. The whole country joins in for a big party.It holds a special place in the hearts of all those who reside on the island of Ireland, or any individual of Irish descent living anywhere in the world.
St.Patrick's Day has become a global phenomenon and many cities across the planet commemorate this day. Yet there is very little coverage of the events that take place in Ireland by the European media. It seems that there is no real public interest in viewing the festivities in another EU nation. The result is an overall lack of familiarity with the cultural heritage of other regions of the union. To some that is not of any importance, but there could be plenty of benefits to explore for every country. The tourism industry is obviously one that could benefit the most. Every year, thousands of tourists flock to Dublin, but imagine if the festivities of St. Patrick’s Parade were broadcasted in all EU countries! How many more could be motivated to visit? What better advertisement could one country have than reaching out to the nationals of the countries nearest to you? Offer them a city-break for fun and cultural events. With so many low cost airlines in Europe, it sounds like the perfect get away.
Similar events from other EU countries could be broadcasted and promoted across the Union. Like the annual Carnival festivities in Patra, Xanthi or Naoussa in Greece. In Italy we have the famous Carnival of Venice, while in Germany, Austria and Switzerland they also have numerous celebrations like the Alemannic Fastnacht.
Yet, despite all this cultural activity and heritage, our media seem to be unwilling to cover these events on a pan-European level. Promoting tourism within the EU is not the only benefit, even though it is something that we need due to the economic crisis.
Other important benefits could be the constant cultural exchanges and the creation of a sense of belonging to a people’s union. If we watch how other people celebrate and live, other EU countries won’t feel as “foreign” anymore. We should stop isolating other nations out of our reality and everyday lives, if we intend on being close partners. Whether we like it or not, Europe is becoming more and more federal with each new treaty.
Sadly, the integration process has been focusing on a financial and political level at most, while little has been done to engage the citizens. Clearly, if we push the idea of a solely economic union, with each economic crisis this union will be very fragile as we currently observe. We could stimulate the interest of EU citizens, with something different to relate the European project with. Apart from finances, banking and trade, now there could be culture, fun and heritage exchanges.
It does not have to be a full length documentary, a few clips in our national broadcasters’ news would be sufficient. In this way we could create a European sense of belonging; learn a bit more about our culture, lifestyle and national holidays, by sharing the events happening in our cities. Imagine people not just moving around the continent to visit the festivities, boosting tourism; but also start participating in them, or celebrating them in their own backyards. Expatriate communities could play this role, by being active participants in the festivities.
Why not promote St. Patrick’s Day in every European capital city? Not as a national holiday of course, rather like an opportunity to have fun and become Irish for a day. Likewise, other cultural events could become part of a pan-European celebration, rather as something local. It is not a brand new concept. Cultural exchange has always been happening throughout Europe, but as attempts of ethnic or religious dominance and expansion. As Europe’s borders constantly changed, its people were coming into contact with new cultures and way of living.
In the past this was happening through trade, invasions, colonization, wars, empires and religious conversion. Now it will simply be happening peacefully and out of curiosity and fun. Europe as a whole will greatly benefit from it in the long term. People need more than a single currency to feel like they are united and belong in the European community. Culture is what unites citizens, more than any economic project or banking union. If the EU is to succeed, it needs to realise this and start investing in it.
So, how are you going to spend your St Patrick's Day Europe?