In Germany, the asparagus harvest marks a national celebration. Whole restaurant menus center around asparagus, filling the hearts and stomachs of Germans thrilled by the wonderful harvest season. Asparagus has been an important crop in Germany, so the foundations of the festivities have economic and historic roots. In America, we have a similar celebration of the harvest of a particular vegetable — the pumpkin.
To the foreign observer, our celebration of the pumpkin harvest must seem similar to the festive asparagus day of the Germans. We produce pumpkin pies, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin curry, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin pasta sauce, pumpkin bread, pumpkin teas, and pumpkin ales. Gathering up the young and old, we venture hand-in-hand to a pumpkin patch and pick out this year’s pumpkin. Photos ensue. We place one big one on the porch by the door, and maybe a few little ones in the center of our table.
At the same time as we celebrate the pumpkin harvest, we observe a strange practice of abstaining from creating our own pumpkin consumables. Though most of us buy a pumpkin, virtually everyone will see this pumpkin rot while they take canned pumpkin out of the cupboard to make into pie or fajitas or what have you.
Think about that. We celebrate our grand harvest without eating it.
It is as though Germans hung asparagus on the door and placed it around their homes, but only cooked with canned asparagus during the harvest time. The whole point of celebrating the time of harvest is that you don’t have to rely on the canned stuff anymore — you have the fresh produce readily available.
Leaving aside the weird place the pumpkin holds in our culture (after all, the pumpkin crop is not of major economic or historic importance to Americans; it’s kind of a random vegetable to be the center of national celebration) the weirdness of a harvest festival in an urban culture remains. Our culture has grown increasingly distant from and unaware of the production of our food. Trying to reverse the curse of man, we have attempted to sever our ties with the earth by distancing ourselves as much as possible from the way our food comes to our tables. There was a time when buying a vegetable to rot on your porch while you get the same vegetable out of a jar would have been utterly absurd. A different generation of women would have happily hacked the fresh stuff to bits for their pumpkin linguine and left the canned veggie for another day. But, as much as we want to participate in the cycles of the earth, as much as we yearn to give thanks to God for the harvest we receive from His hand, we nevertheless maintain a rejection of our link with the earth.
As we grow up, many of us are astonished to discover the horrors of our food production industry. These abuses are clearly a problem. But, even if they didn’t exist, our distance from the earth would remain a problem, because it means nothing to us when Jesus comes to the fig tree and sees that it is barren. If this store doesn’t have figs, we can go to another one and get them. We can find whatever produce we want whenever we want it, shipped from other parts of the world. We have no long wait, no hurrahing in harvest
, no yearning for something exciting to come. We’ve lost touch with the different seasons of our fruits and vegetables, and link them together only by vague memory or nostalgia. Once, men and women would have greeted the presence of the most recent crop with gratitude. Gratitude comes most naturally where no guarantee existed that the object of the gratitude would happen. We’re rarely grateful at what produce we find in groceries stores. They have to set up an artificial system of sale prices to make us excited about different things on different days.
But, then comes Thanksgiving, this glorious day that may be the greatest remedy for consumerism in our culture. On Thanksgiving, we actually celebrate the production of our food. The average middle-class American spends most days of the year only vaguely aware that the apples or asparagus or coffee beans or hamburger he eats had a long journey to get to his mouth. On Thanksgiving, we pause to remember that journey, to put ourselves once more in touch with the origin of our food and our reasons to be grateful for its presence.
The word “Eucharist,” the great meal of the church, means gratitude or thanksgiving. Our gathering together to gives thanks for a meal is one of the most Christian activities we could do.
Enjoy your pumpkins and thanksgiving.