Jerry Buccafusco is Italian, but every March 17, he says he's as Irish as his wife.
Though her name might hide her roots, Columbia County Board of Education member Regina Buccafusco is a third-generation Irish-American who grew up in an Irish neighborhood in Jersey City, N.J.
"We would start celebrating (St. Patrick's Day) the first of March," said Regina, whose maiden name was Neilan. "There was always something going on at church or in Irish houses; it was a prolonged celebration."
March 17 is believed to be the date of death of St. Patrick, who took Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century.
Regina is one of more than 34 million Americans claiming Irish ancestry, the nation's second-most claimed ancestry, according to census records.
But many Americans, of Irish descent or not, will sport their green Friday to avoid a pinching and offer a toast to St. Patrick and the Emerald Isle.
"I think it's wonderful because it opens up our culture to everybody," Regina said. "It's such a pleasant holiday; it's friendly, there are not many holidays where everybody is accepted and it's so pleasant and outgoing and I like that."
The opening up of culture is something the Buccafuscos are familiar with. The pair grew up not far from each other in the same city, even playing in the same parks, but they didn't meet until college.
"In Jersey City, there was an Irish neighborhood, an Italian neighborhood and a Polish neighborhood," Regina said. "All these immigrants, a lot of them stayed right there."
Jerry grew up in an Italian neighborhood and went to public schools. Regina lived in the Irish section and went to private school. Their relationship in college was a problem with their immigrant grandparents, Regina said.
"It was an issue," she said. "My grandfather would not stay in the same room as my husband. If my husband came into a room my grandfather would leave ... Jerry's grandfather on the other hand, the first time I came over to dinner (said), 'She's a nice girl even if she is Irish.' "
Their relationship opened up some cultural barriers when they wed in 1973.
"My father had a large family and we would all get together and sing Irish songs after dinner; that was entertainment," Regina said.
"St. Patrick's Day, before I met Regina ... meant parades," said Jerry, who played in bands that also performed at Irish parties. "It wasn't until I met Regina that it became so much more meaningful and traditional."
He learned traditional Irish songs, Celtic arts, darts and acquired a taste for Guinness, he said.
She learned his family's history and how to cook Italian.
"You can't have a last name like Buccafusco and not know how to cook Italian," she said.
When the couple moved to Evans in 1979, Regina said, she missed the excitement of an Irish neighborhood on St. Patrick's Day. In Jersey City, her father was a mounted policeman who would lead the parade and the New York City Parade would follow a week later.
"The first year I came down here, it was so hard the first St. Patrick's Day," Regina said. Ever since the first lackluster holiday, the Buccafuscos have held a party, complete with corned beef and cabbage, traditional Irish soda bread and plenty of green.
"We never have really elaborate parties, but everybody always ends up here on St. Patrick's day," Regina said.
Explaining their family heritage was important to both parents when they had children, Regina said.
"We raised our sons to know their ethnic backgrounds and really emphasized it," she said.
Despite being raised in Evans, when their son Marty moved to New York for work, he acclimated himself to the Irish neighborhoods, Regina said. He can even lead his friends in Irish songs.
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