Similarly, in the 1970s the Colgate Palmolive Company marketed "Irish Spring" soap. The Irish-themed commercials touted the soap and its companion products. Until the late 1980s these products contained a three-leaf shamrock symbol on the soap boxes, but these were later dropped. In the company's most recent marketing material and packaging, the four-leaf clover has replaced the shamrock in most of the product line. Indirectly the Colgate Palmolive Company may have been influenced by the General Mills example of conflating the two symbols.
Paralleling the marketing approach of these companies, in recent decades the four-leaf clover continued to gain popularity and began showing up on St. Patrick's Day and Irish-themed products. Today websites and stores selling St. Patrick's Day items have both motifs on their goods. Irish merchandising websites, however, are less likely to promote both motifs, and they largely maintain the shamrock symbol.
Is there a malevolent attempt to downsize the shamrock symbol because of its Christian connection? Generally, no significant evidence exists to suggest that the corporate world is deliberately encouraging an alternative to the shamrock. Companies may simply be making use of the positive marketing connections to the four-leaf clover symbol that many companies like General Mills and long-established institutions like the 4-H Club have found successful in the past.
Conversely, the embattled shamrock with its Christian and Irish identity now faces a rival in the four-leaf clover motif. Christian symbols, like the shamrock, will have to co-exist alongside the symbols of other traditions in an increasingly diverse American society. The shamrock's survival as a uniquely Christian symbol will depend on the Christian community informing its young of the history of the symbol, and why Christian symbols and a Christian worldview are important. No longer can the Christian community rely on general American society and culture to promote our values and symbols.
Stephen Douglas Wilson is dean emeritus and chair of the social studies/history department of Mid-Continent University in Mayfield, Ky., and serves as a member of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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