Judging from advertisements and social-media posts, this week is the inauguration of 2021’s Pumpkin-Spice Season. Never mind that actual pumpkins — you know, the ones that grow out of the ground — most likely won’t be ripening for another month or two.
In many parts of the country, the outdoor temperature remains steady at about 92 degrees Fahrenheit, and the leaves remain stubbornly green and attached to the trees. Why are so many of us rushing to experience autumn, and all of the good things we love about it, when it’s still so clearly summer?
If you happened to be one of the people enjoying pumpkin-spice something on Tuesday, don’t feel like I’m attacking you. There’s nothing wrong with anticipating the arrival of fall, nor is it reproach-worthy to indulge in pumpkin or apple-cinnamon muffins this week or even during the middle of March.
But this out-of-season disease seems to afflict all of us in many forms and at many times each year, even in parts of the country with little seasonal variation in the weather. It’s especially evident when it comes to how we market goods for each particular season.
Take grocery-store candy, for example. Earlier this year, I couldn’t help but notice that stores had begun setting out chocolate Easter eggs the weekend before Ash Wednesday. Lent hadn’t even begun, and already we were supposed to be celebrating the Resurrection.
Along with the pumpkins and cinnamon-stick decor popping up everywhere during this, the final week of August, I’ve noticed conspicuous bins of Halloween candy appearing at local stores. If I bought my Halloween candy today, I have no doubt that the kids who arrive trick-or-treating to my door will be disappointed by the strange texture the candy has assumed during the two-month interim.
By the time Halloween finally rolls around, meanwhile, stores will be gearing up for Christmas, as will local radio stations. At the start of November, the pumpkin-spice latte will be abandoned for the peppermint mocha. It is one of the greatest disappointments each year when, after all the joyful anticipation of Advent, Christmas finally arrives — only for the carols to vanish from the airwaves and the candy on the shelves to be hustled off to the discount section in favor of Valentine’s Day chocolates. But there are twelve whole days of Christmas to celebrate. Why not make the most of them?
Perhaps most unfortunate is the pathetically short shrift we give to the quiet glory of Thanksgiving, which, rather than being celebrated as a holiday in its own right, is treated as pre-Christmas: trampled in our mad rush to tinsel and holly and drowned out by “Jingle Bells.”
In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis writes from the perspective of one demon instructing another in how to tempt his human charge, describing the way we human beings live in time and experience its seasons:
The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, [God] (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them. . . . But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme.
As it’s said in Ecclesiastes, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” For everything, even the most mundane pleasures and joys, there is a season — and each possesses so much more of its beauty when we celebrate it in its time.