Pumpkin Creep, Unseasonal Decor and the Beauty of the Liturgical Year
On a list of things that sound perfectly horrible, drinking a nutmeg and cinnamon-flavored latte in 100-degree weather ranks just below wearing still wet jeans. Yet, the annual pumpkin-spiced fog drifted into our collective consciousness early this week.
Yes, it's only the middle of August and much of the country is currently experiencing temperatures well above 80 degrees, but Dunkin' announced that it was moving up its role out of pumpkin-flavored coffee and doughnuts. The move was explained as a push to meet consumers' increasingly early demand for all things pumpkin.
Emily S. Rueb of the NYT explained that like holiday creep, "pumpkin creep" is real. Starbuck's Pumpkin Spice Latte will likely debut earlier than ever this year. If you haven't already, you'll soon see pumpkin-flavored cereal, yogurt, granola bars, and even shampoo hit the grocery store shelves in the coming weeks.
I can't really explain why this news irritated me, but it did. I actually love Autumn. I even like pumpkin spice coffee. Call it the grumpy ravings of a seasonal purist, but I am not (as the kids say), "here for this". I can make peace with the fact that the craft stores rolled out autumn décor in June and already have Christmas décor on display. Crafters (a devoted and far more creative species than I) need time to make all the things. I get it.
But why, why, oh why has every coffee shop, fast-casual restaurant and big box store in America lost the ability to read a calendar? Well, the answer is obvious, right?
American businesses aren't just benevolently accommodating the whims of coffee drinkers gone mad. They are purposely stretching and compressing parts of the calendar to maximize profit. How lucky for the marketing and advertising departments of the world that Starbucks struck nutmeg flavored gold in 2013 with the launch of their first pumpkin spiced lattes.
Frank Bruni hit the nail on the head a few years ago when he wrote about the over-commercialization of "pumpkin spice season":
"It's invention run amok, marketing gone mad, the odoriferous emblem of commercialism without compunction or bounds. It's the transformation of an illusion — there isn't any spice called pumpkin, nor any pumpkin this spicy — into a reality."
And it's not just Autumn that's been manipulated. If Fall can begin in August, then Christmas can begin in October. I remember in the 90s when people would complain when stores put out holiday décor before Thanksgiving. That seems laughable now. One morning you're enjoying a bowl of pumpkin-flavored oatmeal and the next Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas is You" is blasting over the radio.
If the only result of holiday and pumpkin creep was that a few zealots got their favorite latte a little early, who would care? Certainly not me. But, here's the thing: this playing around with the normal and ordered way we should progress through the seasons represents something far more problematic.
And here's where you're going to have to stick with me for a minute because I think this commercialized calendar manipulation if reflective of a culture that's lost its bearings to the traditional and scared ways we used to pass time.
The move away from agrarian society over the last few hundred years means fewer and fewer of us are aware of the changing of the seasons in the way that farmers and agriculture workers still are. Even if you're one of the increasingly shrinking population of Americans that live in a rural area, chances are your interaction with the outdoors looks very different than your grandparents.
HVAC systems have (thankfully) made awareness to temperature and weather changes something we notice on the way to and from our cars and not as a fact of life. And despite a push to "eat seasonally" most Americans make little change to their eating and cooking routines throughout the year. High summer used to mean tomato season. Now, you're just as likely to make a pot of stew in your 67-degree kitchen in August as you are to whip up at tomato-basil salad in December.
All of this is just a long-winded way to explain that our collective divorce from the land has made the normally passing of the months murky. But, for Christians, there is another way to progress through the year.
The Liturgical Calendar provides a refuge for those of us who feel put upon by the over-commercialization of holidays and seasons. Living the Liturgical Year is an ancient and ordered return to normalcy. But, it can also be a radical way to take a stand against a culture that measures the passing of the year in Target promotional ads and flavored lattes.
I don't have to feel a mad push to begin celebrating Christmas the first week of December, only to feel a sense disappointment by afternoon on Christmas Day because I have Advent. I don't have to pour every intention to fast and start anew into New Year's Day, because I have Lent (and Advent again, for that matter).
And yes, I didn't have to feel like Autumn was crushing down the last few weeks of summer because I had The Feast of the Assumption this week. If I feel compelled to grab a "fall beverage" next week, great. If not, I can let summer linger a little longer until the last of the blackberries are in season and wait until Michaelmas to ring in Fall.