This year, I think I am going to pass on pumpkin.
Sunday marks the official start of autumn, that most fertile of seasons for commercial exploitation. Fall has been made to mean a million different things for any interested party, not least as the opening round of Christmas.
In recent years, arguably the most ubiquitous autumnal tent pole of all is that most alluring of vegetables, the pumpkin—and, to be precise, the myriad uses thereof.
It has become the great national challenge: Is there anything we cannot create from a pumpkin? While the answer is most assuredly “yes,” we have made it our mission to turn that “yes” into a “no.” We get closer with each passing year.
I need not expend all that much time to explain what I mean, as anyone who has ever left his or her apartment during the months of September, October or November surely already knows.
Nothing more than a passing glance at Dunkin’ Donuts’ current window art will give one a fair impression of just how deep this harvest time fruit cuts in the American culinary culture. You have your pumpkin-flavored coffee, muffins, lattes, donuts, bagels, cream cheese. You want it, they’ve got it.
It gets worse in the supermarket aisles, where one can now find pumpkin Pringles, pumpkin Pop-Tarts and pumpkin M&Ms, among a billion other items whose identities have been co-opted by seasonal considerations in ways their creators could not possibly have foreseen.
Pumpkin beer? Let’s not even start.
For a time, I was completely on board with this mass gourd worship, sampling every cinnamon and nutmeg-infused delicacy I could get my hands on. I have yet to be convinced there is any confection more impossibly delicious than pumpkin pie, and so I figured it couldn’t hurt to transplant the sugar and spices from that classic treat into every other product on God’s green (and orange) earth.
As it turns out, it could.
While I have not yet had a pumpkin-centric experience that was wholly and irretrievably unpleasant, I have nonetheless been stricken by the disheartening epiphany that not everything can be improved through pumpkinization. We do it because we can, but that does not mean that we should.
One test for the worthiness of any annual tradition is to ask yourself whether you would partake in said custom at any other time of the year.
For instance, I never miss NBC’s annual Christmas Eve broadcast of It’s a Wonderful Life. Like so many Americans, I find the ritual of watching Frank Capra’s classic film at 8 o’clock on December 24 to be among the most enchanting in all of moviedom.
However, I am equally content to view the film on any of the 364 other days on the calendar as well. No, the effect is not quite as magical in the middle of summer as in the middle of winter, but it’s bloody good enough. A great movie transcends the environment in which one watches it.
On the other hand, I cannot quite say the same for A Christmas Story, the 1983 comedy that TBS broadcasts on a 24-hour loop throughout Christmas Day. As entertaining as that movie is, at no other point in the year does it occur to me to pop it into the old VCR. The film is particular to its season, and eternally tethered to it.
One reason Thanksgiving, not Christmas, is the greatest American holiday is that nearly every one of its defining characteristics is not confined to the fourth Thursday of each November. Turkey, football, apple pie, family quarrels, indiscriminate drinking—is there ever a bad time for any of these?
With pumpkin products, this is simply not the case. Some are excellent, while others are merely the result of festive capitalism run amok. However much we might enjoy them in the heat of the moment—albeit a moment that lasts for one-quarter of the year—they are not of the inherent quality that would enable them to become year-round staples, as evidenced by the fact that they aren’t.
What I belatedly realized is how easily and enduringly I fell for it. How I managed to deceive myself into thinking, as America’s PR department hoped I would, that a pumpkiny presence axiomatically makes everything better. That these patently mediocre products I kept returning to every fall were somehow compulsory indulgences and, what is more, that they were worth returning to in the first place.
This year I am determined to resist and to scale back, discriminating between the trinkets I truly enjoy and the unnatural pretenders the culture is attempting to jam, ever-so-temptingly, down my throat.