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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pumpkinmas, the Death of Summer: History

A fictional history of Pumpkinmas, the annual harvest party my wife and I host.

The history of Pumpkinmas begins in Mesoamerica, around the year 7000 BCE. According to interpretations of ancient stone carvings, wild pumpkins were venerated by hunter-gatherers of the period. During the Archaic Era (beginning 3500 BCE), when agriculture was introduced, the farming of pumpkins was established.

During the Preclassic Era (beginning 1800 BCE) the ‘cult of corn’ grew in Mesoamerica, and the veneration of the pumpkin fell by the wayside. If not for the perseverance of certain shaman, Pumpkinmas as we know it may never have been born. These priests keep the celebration of the pumpkin alive, but around 400 BCE they faced a backlash from the much better established corn-based religion. Being labeled heretics, they were forced to flee. Some took the extreme measure of sailing off into the rough seas on crude ships.

How any of them survived to make landfall in southern Europe is a mystery. Survive they did, and they integrated themselves into the Roman Republic, where, in 200 BCE we first hear of Gourdenalia, a week long harvest festival centered around pumpkins.

The Romans spread their traditions, philosophies and religion throughout their known world. Though the Republic and the Empire that followed it died, Pumpkinmas lived on. Through interaction with the local Gauls, Celts and Picts of northern Europe, Gourdenalia became the Pumpionfest, which survived well into the Anglo-Saxon period.

From there it was subsumed into harvest festivals in general until the Victorian era, when a certain clique of technologically advanced citizens, looking for distraction and amusement, discovered and revived the ancient holiday. In 1888, with the onset of Jack the Ripper’s abominable crimes, it was thought that “dark and gothic holidays and observances” would be in poor taste and its practice was again forgotten.

However, an article printed in Canadian Illustrated News in 1883 (its last year of publication) would keep the tradition alive. The issue was discovered in a trunk of family belongings by Todd Fischer in 2007. Having a longtime fascination with folklore and holidays, Todd and his wife Melanie held the first known Pumpkinmas in North America on the first Saturday of October, 2007. This is now the default time for the holiday to be observed.

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