December 2, 2012
December rolls around and it’s very tempting to look backward, make an inward turn and reflect upon the past. I assume (wrongly perhaps) that both of my regular readers are down with the whole Christmas thing. There’s the religious part of the Christmas season, of course, but there’s also the historical fact that long ago church fathers cleverly appropriated some pagan rituals associated with shrubbery when they pegged this time of the year for the Christmas season. I’m not talking the Knights who say Ni, here, by the way, but that’s a subject for another time and place.
No, the inward reflective turn has more to do with some secular aspects of the Christmas season. A big thing is that we are gearing up for the end of the year, which is a natural time to look back at how the year went. One of the network news shows was running its “News Photo of the Year” during the last week of November. Apparently, nothing both notable and photographable could possibly happen in December. Before we know it, we’ll be inundated with “best of” lists. I gave in to that temptation in Thornapple blog back in 2010, but it didn’t turn out all that well.
But beyond the feeling of compression as the year winds down, there is a keen sense of seasonality that sets in with a noticeable change in the air. It’s cold. It’s often grey, but we’re not sick of it yet, and that misty quality looks kind of pretty. If you looked out the window in Lansing this morning like I did, the silhouette of the leafless trees might induce a melancholy feeling that’s conducive to looking back before looking forward. So maybe that’s why the blog in 2010 had so many reflective and backward looking entries, and maybe the fact that I was in Portland, OR last year is the reason that the blog in 2011 didn’t.
There’s also the fact that I sit down at my computer to write the Thornapple blog on Sunday and all manner of holiday music comes pouring out of i-Tunes. Sure, there are carols by the Royal College of Music Chamber Choir, but in my case, at least, they blend in with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings doing “Christmastime in the Projects”. Then Dennis Wilson is saying “so if you happen to be listening to this album right now,” that he’d like to wish season’s greetings from himself along with Allan, Mike, Brian and Carl. This always struck me as a rather kōan-like thing to put on a Christmas Album. I mean, if you are hearing the sound of Dennis Wilson’s voice recorded in 1964 being reproduced in 2012, how could you not be listening to the album “right now”? When is right now, and what gives with the “if” anyway? But maybe that’s why I became a philosopher. So the music thing reinforces the seasonality that’s evident in the trees outside.
The marketing folks who run our commercial culture are keen on pegging the retail décor to the time of the year, too. After 2013 rolls in, we’ll have a very dead time for about four weeks until all the pink hearts show up and we can celebrate Valentine’s Day. Then it goes green for St. Patrick’s day, when we can all pretend to be Irish. Next we become Mexican for Cinco de Mayo, and before long everything is Uncle Sam, red, white and blue for the Fourth of July. Autumn marketing revolves around Halloween and Thanksgiving, when the crepe paper in the stores mimics the bright orange and then the muted tones on the trees outside (at least if you live in Michigan). But there’s no contest, really. The commercial side of Christmas just accelerates the boost that comes with all that red and green décor. Robert Lamm asked, “Does anybody really know what time it is?” When the stores are red and green, at least we think we do. Whether it’s 1964 or 2012, it’s right now.
So I’m back in Michigan and it looks like I’m getting reflective again in 2012. It’s not like we’re altogether lacking with signs of seasonality here in industrial culture. So why, you might ask rhetorically, is seasonality such a big thing in the CSA way? Our peculiar seasonality says that it’s time to be scarfing down the very last of that late season fresh produce that we cajoled into production with our hoop houses, and turning to the root crops we’ve been storing in the basement. Dig out those recipes for squash casserole and pumpkin soup. Eat the spaghetti squash this month, (hint: it’s better with an Alfredo sauce than a red sauce) because the acorn, butternut and other varieties of cucurbita pepo you might have down in the basement will last into January. Of course, January and February are the months when we are supposed to be turning to thoroughly dried foods, Michigan dry beans being the prince among them. In short, we think that eating in season is somehow morally correct. Before next week, I’ll have to look back over some past blogs to see if I can figure out why.
Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University