Symbolism and Tradition: A #concomms look at St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's Day in... Moscow. Cross-cultural communication at work. Image credit: Kirill Sergeyev/Wikimedia Commons.

St. Patrick’s Day in… Moscow. Cross-cultural communication at work. Image credit: Kirill Sergeyev/Wikimedia Commons.

A quick look at the calendar (or at the people around you on the street) should let you know in a jiffy: It’s St. Patrick’s Day. That usually means you’ll be seeing a lot of green today. Then there are the other traditions that have sprung up around the observance, from corned beef to bagpipes. Converged communicators who have studied and discussed symbolism in DIG3286 (Assembling Digital Media) might be wondering: How did all of these symbols develop? As in so many other things, it’s a long story – one that highlights some useful points in cross-cultural communication.

Many of the traditions of St. Patrick’s Day trace their origin more to Americans of Irish descent than to Ireland itself. As John Roach writes for National Geographic, many of the most familiar St. Patrick’s Day customs took root in 19th-century America or even later. The same goes for culinary traditions. Even though a highly salted form of corned beef was produced in Ireland, today’s variety instead comes from the kosher corned beef made by Jewish immigrants to the United States from Eastern Europe, as described by Shaylyn Esposito in the Smithsonian story “Is Corned Beef Really Irish?” In fact, as this NPR story shows, some American St. Patrick’s Day traditions, like dyeing foods green, can be jolting to those in Ireland who traditionally associated green food with the dire poverty of the 19th-century potato famine. Time can change the meaning and context of symbols, though, and now many of these customs have become just another part of the day’s celebrations. It’s an example of how even symbols that don’t seem directly connected with communication can help us gain a deeper understanding of our field.

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One comment

  1. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! 😀

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