An Early Harvest

Tottering through my local supermarket last week—it was July 31, to be precise—I saw it for the first time.  It was unexpected but unmistakable:  A big old shelf of candy corn.

Yup, on the final day of July—precisely three months before the final day of October—there appeared the first sign of fall.  The opening shot in the Battle of Halloween.

It begged the question—as it does every year—“What kind of person requires 13 weeks to prepare for trick-or-treaters?”  And what does it say about American retailers’ opinion of the public that it allots us that much time to do so?

Yes, I know it’s possible to nibble candy corn on days other than October 31.  There may be upwards of three or four of us who do.  Anyway, candy corn isn’t really about Halloween, as such, but the whole harvest season.  It’s a symbol of autumn, like leaves and pumpkins and NFL lawsuits.

Except that—how do I put this?—it’s not autumn yet.  Not even a little bit.  To be honest, I’m not entirely convinced that we’ve made it out of spring.  Up here in Boston, I’m still smarting from that God-awful winter we had, and I wouldn’t mind if it stayed above 80 degrees forever.  Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever been less enthusiastic about the arrival of cooler weather than I am now.

But no matter.  The candy corn harvest has begun, and there’s nothing we can do about it.  (Apart from ignoring it, that is.)  Soon enough we’ll see the predictable abundance of peppermint lattes and apple cider join the mix, and the long, inexorable march toward Christmas will be underway.

I could go on in this manner—lamenting the increasingly expansive holiday calendar and the apparently irrepressible American need to always be celebrating one thing or another—but I will resist the temptation and quit while I’m ahead.  I’ve covered this topic in years past, and we’ll be hearing plenty of the same gripes from all quarters in the months ahead.  It’s all a string of worn-out clichés, anywho.

To be honest, I don’t really care when the holiday season starts.  It’s mildly annoying to see Halloween candy in August and Christmas wreaths in September, but I’ll get over it.  It is decidedly a “first world problem.”

The truth is, I’ve been reading and writing an awful lot lately about the war between Israel and Hamas, and I’d just really like to take a short breather from the madness with something utterly silly and innocuous.  It’s what blogger Andrew Sullivan refers to as a “mental health break.”

Besides, embarking on a vacation from reality is largely what holidays are for.  As such, it makes perfect sense that an especially depressing series of news events would yield an especially elaborate series of distractions, beginning with the indiscriminate display of candy corn.  Perhaps we should be grateful.

The root of the problem (if it’s a problem) of starting Halloween smack in the middle of summer is the not-completely-uninteresting fact that, on the American calendar, there is not a single national festival of note between the Fourth of July and Labor Day—by far, the longest such gap in the year.  Worse still, the first two official holidays of the fall, Labor Day and Columbus Day, provide precious little grist for America’s retailers to work with, relative to the consumer behemoths that follow.  And those supermarket “specialty” aisles are not going to stock themselves.

The obvious explanation for this is that August is the month when most Americans are on vacation already, and thus any formal holiday would be superfluous.  Why bother giving people a day off from work when most of them (not least Congress) have already flown the coop?

Because we’re Americans and we could always use an extra incentive to party, that’s why.

Summer is a time for barbecues and outdoor frolicking and general, leisurely good cheer.  In practice, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day are all markers of this fact and are observed accordingly.

So why not throw an additional holiday into the mix, to bridge the July-September gulf and provide a formal pretext—in case anyone needs it—to throw one more family-and-friends get-together before school starts and snow begins to fall?

It would be great.  We could call it “A Midsummer Night’s Awakening.”  We’d play stickball, toast marshmallows, and under no circumstances would there be any goddamned candy corn.

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