(AP) Paul Murphy came all the way from Glasgow, Scotland, to stand against the back wall of The Irish Pub with a pint in his hand and a paper bag on his head.
He did not stand out in the least at the bar, which was packed Tuesday afternoon with people wearing brightly decorated paper bags atop their heads, for this was Bag Day, the second-greatest day of the year at The Irish Pub.
Each March 18, the day after St. Patrick's Day, people come from far and near to jam the joint, most wearing some sort of bag fashioned into a hat atop their head. The tradition dates back 24 years to a group of exhausted waitresses and casino workers who realized they had worked through the entire night and missed St. Paddy's Day.
"We said, 'We didn't have too much fun on St. Patrick's Day; let's start our own holiday,'" said Cathy Burke, who owns the pub. "The bartender had just brought out a pile of bags that they use behind the bar, and we put some on our heads and said, 'We declare today Bag Day, the official holiday of The Irish Pub and anyone who has to work on St. Patrick's Day.'"
That day, the staff met people at the door and told them they couldn't enter unless they wore a bag on their heads, handing them out to the slightly startled patrons. As the years went by, people started bringing their own bags, many richly painted and decorated.
Rich Crofton drove 40 miles from Williamstown to wear a white bag bedecked with shamrocks, drawings of two sudsy mugs, and the words "Beer Me, I'm Irish" on his hat.
"It's a chance to let your hair down a little bit,' he said.
His friend Karen Peacock, also of Williamstown, said people come year after year to see friends they made at Bag Day. She had the same take on the origin of the name as did most of those interviewed at the bar.
"Because you're still in the bag after St. Patrick's Day," she laughed between sips of a Bloody Mary. "It's an excuse to have some hair of the dog."
Each year, Lois Werth of nearby Margate comes to Bag Day for the buzz, in more ways than one. She leads a group of revelers who call themselves "The Bees," all wearing bag hats with a bee motif.
One was shaped like a giant marijuana cigarette (a "doo-bee"); Werth's was adorned with a list of things you can't do around her, including the admonition, "Do Not Pet Me; I'm Working." She is a "don't-bee."
A friend of Werth's had a high-heeled shoe atop his hat; he was a "shoe-bee," in honor of the derogatory term that residents of the southern New Jersey shore used for day trippers to the area, who were said to carry their lunch to the beach in shoe boxes.
"You meet so many interesting people here on Bag Day," she said. "It's not like a typical drinking night. People come from all over for this."
Revelers wore hats shaped like a Bishop's miter, a boat, a pirate hat, a crown, a hippie headband, the Wicked Witch of the West, a Dalmatian puppy, and one adorned with cut-outs of centerfold models.
Derek Berkett, who traveled about 50 miles from Bellmawr to help hold up the back wall Tuesday afternoon, summed up the appeal of Bag Day.
"You can wear a paper bag on your head and fit in with everyone else in the room," he said. "When else can you do that?"
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