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I used to be a person who did not care about the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Years ago, when my friends invited me to coffee (which I didn’t drink until after I became a mom), I fancied myself the epitome of the Anti-Trend. I rolled my eyes sarcastically at their proclamation of love for the pumpkin drink that did not actually contain any pumpkin, and I scoffed at the hashtags and Facebook contests to bring the drink back early.
Two weeks ago, I pulled into the closest parking spot to my office—which was a good two mile walk, since I work at a college campus and classes had just resumed—bent on one thing: Pumpkin Spice Latte goodness. I’d heard rumors; there were whispers of an early return—something about a scavenger hunt and secret codes. I wasn’t sure exactly what the hype was—it was all way too James Bond for me—but I was sure that somebody more dedicated than I was to the artificially flavored cause had unlocked the early release.
I was wrong.
As students flitted in and out of my office that day, many in cardigans and scarves despite the fact it was close to ninety degrees outside, I went through the motions of the first day of the Fall 2014 semester; but in my heart, it didn’t feel right. All summer I’d pictured this day, which meant the end of a fairly lulled workload, with a Pumpkin Spice Latte in hand.
It’s now not even a week into September, and I’ve already had two lattes of the pumpkin spice variety. And honestly? They were anti-climactic—a nice little caffeine rush and a not-so-nice little dent in my wallet, but not earth-shattering. Even still, I know I’ll crave the drink in the same way next year, when the elaborate marketing ploys for the beverage roll around and #therealPSL makes a twitter comeback. (Yes, the Pumpkin Spice Latte has a twitter account, which makes Facebook pages for dogs seem sensible.)
But I digress.
As I mused to my husband about the mediocrity of the drink I’d craved so much, the obvious question arose: why do I care so much every year? What is the Pumpkin Spice Latte anyway? Quite predictably, the ingredients are a mix of things you’d probably prefer to ignore if you ever want to enjoy the drink again, and it costs almost four dollars just to buy a small (tall, whatever). But, aside from being highly illogical and not great for our budget, my Pumpkin Spice Latte craving affirms many people’s intrinsic desire for seasons.
Many have pointed out the fact that, as the PSL does not actually contain any pumpkin, the drink could feasibly be a year-round feature on the Starbucks menu. That will never happen, though, for two main reasons: 1. “Limited time only” creates increased demand and, therefore, increased sales. 2. The rest of the world would realize the drink is kind of mediocre.
Pumpkin Spice Lattes would not be a hit outside the “fall season” for the same reason you can’t stand that one neighbor who still has Christmas lights up in March: the PSL is seasonal, to be enjoyed within that season and within that season only. It is a symbol of change, an acceptance of what is, in many ways, the beginning of a new year. To take the seasonal novelty away from the PSL is essentially to take away the PSL.
Many people value seasons because they long for providence; in each person’s heart there is a simultaneous thirst for and dread of something untouched by human influence. Ecclesiastes 3 juxtaposes extremes—a time for killing and a time for healing. A time for being born and a time for dying. One is something desirable, the other something dreaded, and yet we crave seasons. We crave seasons not because we all enjoy change nor because we want something good to end, but because the acknowledgement of seasons, which are, on the whole, outside of human control, denotes a kind of providence we need, if not want. There is a certain providence in the idea of an assigned timing of things—an order of both good and bad.
Consider the Christmas season, for example; do we merely dedicate a day to the celebration of Christ’s birth and move on? Hardly. There is an anticipation—a season characterized by gladness and kindness (and, okay, Santa). An honoring of seasons—a sense of sacredness to time—is not a novel concept, either. The ancient Israelites were largely characterized by their many festivals, which served a multitude of purposes within their culture. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, for example, traditionally lasted seven days and included the practice of not only refraining from consumption of yeast but, further, removing all bread from one’s home. This practice seems neither particularly convenient nor celebratory, but it was a season regarded with reverence for and remembrance of God’s delivery of the Israelites from Egypt.
My desire for a Pumpkin Spice Latte is a minute expression of my craving for season. Even though I am not entirely happy nor entirely ready to give up the restfulness of summer, I breathe a sigh of relief in acknowledging a providence impressed upon me by seasons.
Have you noticed that the Pumpkin Spice Latte hype is most prevalent not in the thick of October, when fall in all its glory has truly arrived, but at the end of August, when most are looking toward an impending change? The Pumpkin Spice Latte—like Christmas lights and unleavened bread and Easter eggs—is a gateway to the providence of seasons, and Starbucks has capitalized tremendously on one of our most fundamental desires.
img via Chris Breeze
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