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St. Patrick Steps on Church's Toes?

Overlap of Irish saint's holiday and Holy Week causes little distress.

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Justin Holohan, co-owner and operator of O’Faolain’s in Sterling, will pull many a pint of Guinness in the coming days.

Savannah, Ga., may have moved its St. Patrick�s Day parade to avoid the Christian Holy Week, but in Loudoun, as in most other places, it appears that the celebration of all things Irish will be largely unaffected by the fact that it is sharing real estate on the calendar this year. Local Irish pubs are already gearing up for the festivities to come.

The last time St. Patrick�s Day fell during the Holy Week that precedes Easter was in 1940, and the two will not overlap again until 2160, although one can only guess what the greeting card industry will do to popular holidays over the next century and a half.

The coincidence of the two Christian holidays is actually a result of the alignment of earth with the sun and moon. Easter is always on the Sunday that follows the first full moon after March 20, the last day of winter. Because of this arrangement, the date of Easter, the holiest day of the Christian calendar, can vary by more than a month. This year, the moon will be full on the day after the equinox and two days before a Sunday, making Easter unusually early. St. Patrick�s Day, meanwhile, is always celebrated on March 17.

In the Christian religion, and particularly the Catholic Church, the week leading up to Easter is to be a solemn affair.

"I think they should still celebrate the life of St. Patrick and all that he accomplished," said Joelle Santolla, spokeswoman for the Arlington Diocese, which includes Loudoun County. "But during Holy Week, attention should be focused on Easter and the resurrection of Christ."

ST. PATRICK, who is said to have been born in Scotland, is credited with converting much of Ireland, then largely Druid, to Christianity during the 400s. However, the church does not, in fact, credit him for the fact that there are no snakes in Ireland.

Santolla said the diocese had issued no statement regarding the celebration of St. Patrick�s Day, although two Catholic feast days that also rarely overlap with the Holy Days around Easter, St. Joseph�s Day and the Solemnity of the Annunciation, were moved to other days. Parishes that observe St. Patrick�s Day in the church also moved their celebrations of Ireland�s patron saint.

"We usually have a party every year and we already had it," said Father Richard Guest, pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Ashburn. However, he said he did not see the overlap as a conflict. "There�s nothing in church law that says you can�t celebrate that Monday," he said. The question had not arisen in his parish, said Guest. "Nobody�s said a thing about it. Nobody�s asked about it."

JEFF AYRES, general manager of Spanky�s Shenanigans in Leesburg, said he had not been aware that the holidays coincided until a customer recently asked about it. St. Patrick�s Day plans would proceed as usual, said Ayres. "You celebrate Christmas on Christmas �."

Indeed, secular St. Patrick�s Day celebrations in Ireland, such as the St. Patrick�s Festival in Dublin, will proceed on the 17th, although the religious feast day was moved to the 15th.

Azmi Zarou, one of the managers at Spanky�s, said the day would begin with a "green beer and eggs" breakfast, also including corned beef hash, fried potatoes, sausage and toast, starting at 8 a.m. Acoustic performances, including a bagpipe player, will begin at noon, and two full bands will play from 4 p.m. until closing. The entire day will be marked by special prices on Irish beers and giveaways of green beads and other paraphernalia. "So it�s a big, big day for us," said Zarou.

However, if anyone wanted to celebrate before the Holy Week, they could do so on Saturday, when the pub is holding a pre-St. Patrick�s Day party, with live music beginning at 9 p.m. and Guinness representatives running promotions all day.

Spanky�s also offers free shuttle service to locations within a 10- to 12-mile radius.

KIRKPATRICK�S IRISH Pub in Ashburn will also hold a Saturday celebration, marking its six-year anniversary. "So, for those who want to come out and party then, they can do that," said general manager Craig Baker. He said customers had called to ask if the St. Patrick�s Day celebration would be moved, but he said he did not expect Easter to much diminish the Monday crowd. "We don�t foresee a large difference between years past and this one," said Baker. The Saturday celebration will feature food and drink specials and a live band.

Monday will begin with an Irish breakfast, and the live music will begin in the late morning, with four acts playing throughout the day. There will be food and drink specials all day and Baker said he expected to reach capacity by about 5 p.m.

O�FAOLAIN�S IN Sterling is keeping its own pre-St. Patrick�s Day advent, beginning with a "Paddy�s Day Pub Quiz" and drink specials today, March 12. Thursday�s late-night party is for employees only, but on Friday, patrons will find specials on Irish food and a live band in the evening. The Irish band Paddy�s Land will fly in from the Emerald Isle to play at O�Faolain�s Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. On St. Patrick�s Day, four traditional Irish meals will be served, beginning with the "kegs and eggs" breakfast at 8 a.m. and ending with four-course dinners. Live music will begin at 10 a.m., to be interrupted only by an Irish dance troupe in the afternoon.

"We try to keep it as traditional and authentic as possible," co-owner Justin Holohan said of the festivities at the Irish-owned and largely Irish-operated pub. There will be no leprechauns or green beer in the house, he said. "That�s American."

Holohan said some in Ireland might be deterred by the Holy Week, but "Americans want to celebrate it and we�re going to help them do it."

"THESE MORE intense religious themes are for those who take faith more seriously," said Father C. Donald Howard, the pastor at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in Sterling, noting that the lead-up to Easter is to be the most solemn week of the year. Like Guest, he said the subject had not been raised at his church either.

"Those who come to church during Holy Week are still going to come and those who are going to go out drinking are still going to go out," said Howard.