Don’t fight it!
The faint scent of clover wafts into my bedroom window. My favorite TV shows are returning to their regularly scheduled weekday slots. Ah, it’s that time of year again, my favorite American holiday: Pumpkin Spice season.
Its arrival has become as controversial as Christmas, as it appears to creep up earlier and earlier each year, and with it, a deluge of impassioned thinkpieces about the drink’s ubiquity and its steady encroachment into summer. But in California, where the advance of time is only detectable by the seasonal decorations of storefront windows and the premiere of a new Kardashian reality show spin-off (Rob & Chyna airs this weekend!), the emergence of the Pumpkin Spice latte is a welcome harbinger of change. A holiday that isn’t corporatized, but resolutely corporate—built by a team of branding geniuses on the premise of spices pilfered by colonialists. I’d argue that Pumpkin Spice season is actually America’s best secular holiday.
I had my first Pumpkin Spice latte a few years ago, from the Starbuck’s location at The Grove, in the center of L.A. I was a skeptic, a snooty coffee snob whose $5 cappuccinos from the gentrifying café in my neighborhood were always Instagram-ready. But, after one sip, I was hooked: the warm liquid conducted a full assault of flavor on my taste buds, a puissant mélange of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove meant to reproduce the experience of eating a pumpkin pie. (Worth noting that until 2015, this iconic recipe didn’t actually include pumpkin as an ingredient.)
From there, I went on to other Pumpkin Spice products: pancake mix from Trader Joe’s, lollypop’s from See’s. A Pumpkin Spice Yankee Candle. The spirit of Pumpkin Spice was upon me.
Image by Mike Mozart.
As a Muslim who was deprived of the celebrations of Christmas and all other religious (and non-religious) holidays, Pumpkin Spice season allows me to celebrate the advent of a new calendar term. It’s a holiday that requires no God, no religion, although sipping a Pumpkin Spice latte while surrounded by the symbolic accoutrement of fall—paper leave cutouts, pinecone-studded wreathes, decorative gourds—feels devotional somehow.
I didn’t grow up with pumpkin pies. The only squash my mother bought were the kinds she used for couscous dishes. But drinking these flavored lattes evokes a strange artificial nostalgia, a communal feeling I never felt. Here, I could claim participation in a culture that was never mine to begin with. It’s America’s best populist holiday, a celebration that excludes no one except those too distracted by their own arrogance to enjoy it. Because it isn’t about a food, it’s really about a feeling. So here’s to wishing you a Happy Pumpkin Spice for years to come!
Image by Mike Mozart.