Catching up with regional traditions

Mar 19, 2008 at 3:00 a.m. ET

Have you noticed how each area of the country has its regional traditions? Of course, you are saying. But even within those regions, traditions vary by sub-region.

When we first moved to this town, in a sub-region to our general geographic region we knew there was a heavy Irish influence. There are almost as many families with Irish surnames around here as there are in Ireland, and I am almost as familiar with the traditional Gaelic spellings of some first names as their more common modern interpretations: Padraig and Patrick, Sean and Shawn, Ciara and Kira. It means St. Patrick's Day is a whole lot of fun. Honestly, it should be a regional holiday.One thing I didn't expect our first March here was a tradition that has developed among some the Irish-American families in our sub-region. Alfs came home from school that first year — having worn green, of course (about the extent of my notice of St. Patrick's Day growing up) — wondering why the leprechauns hadn't left any treats for him that morning. "What?" I asked, "Leprechauns?"Then Alfs proceeded to tell me that "all" his friends got candy from the leprechauns that morning, since it's St. Patrick's Day and all.I fumbled for what to say and finally replied, "Wow, that sounds like a really nice thing. But sweetie, I think the leprechauns only leave treats for the Irish children, and, um, we're not Irish."Alfs looked heartbroken. "We're not?" "No, love, we're German and Scottish and English with tidbits of several other cultures thrown in. But we are not Irish."I was conflicted about letting Alfs down like this, but I didn't think it was appropriate to pretend we were something we were not, and, honestly, there was enough candy floating around our house with Easter on its way. I didn't see the need to add another ongoing expectation.I started asking acquaintances around town. Had they ever heard about this leprechaun tradition? Recent arrivals like me were just as perplexed and amused as I was. Longer term residents knew, but not all participated. I called and emailed friends in other suburbs. People in our sub-region knew about it, but did or did not participate. Outside of our sub-region, people were just as in the dark as me.I called down to our Irish friends in North Carolina. Had they ever heard of such a thing? Did they do this in Cork? Our friends laughed heartily. No, they said, they didn't have any such tradition, but it sounded like fun. Maybe they should start doing it for their kids?Since that first March, I've started to notice more sub-regional traditions and idiosyncrasies. They are the things that unite a community and give a town or a region part of its flavor. Also since that first March, I start dropping reminders to the kids in early March that we are not, in fact, Irish. Thankfully there have been fewer and fewer comments about the lack of leprechaun given treats, even while we do enjoy St. Patrick's Day. Alfs is starting to get more interested in our actual cultural heritage, so I think there is room for starting our own little heritage related tradition sometime during the year. Maybe it will catch on.

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