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Pumpkin Spice, Starbucks, and the Liturgical Calendar

Pumpkin Spice, Starbucks, and the Liturgical Calendar

Yesterday began the first, and most important, of the holy seasons for Starbucks: Pumpkin Spice. (I reject Frappucino as a major holy season.) And I am by no means innocent; though I consider Starbucks coffee to be second-rate, I am an experienced practitioner of the art of Gold Card savings, and I've had two pumpkin-spice-based drinks already.

While Starbucks' drink schedule of limited-time flavors and beverages is primarily considered through the lens of advertising, I think it's transcended mere consumerism. Starbucks' seasons have become a means by which we mark and sort the passage of time.

In other words, the coffee chain's drink releases form a sort of modern liturgical calendar.

Now, I should state from the outset that I oppose the liturgical calendar on a biblical basis; if someone can explain to me why Paul meant the opposite of what he said in multiple places (Gal. 4:10-11, Col. 2:16), I'm open to revision, but I don't think it's a good case to argue that he only thought it was wrong to judge people according to the Jewish liturgical calendar but perfectly okay to bind them with a Christian one.

That said, I would in some ways prefer to observe the liturgical year. The Starbucks example illustrates that there seems to be something inherent in man which desires to define and divide time. I'm sympathetic to the project of dividing that time in a Christ-honoring way, rather than a mermaid-honoring one.

Still, even if it seems that humanity is designed in such a way that we seek markers and seasons, that would not be a biblical argument by which to justify the use of a compulsory liturgical calendar. "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). It would be an error to argue, then, that we are designed for a liturgical calendar crafted even by wise, well-intentioned men, if we were not designed for a sabbath instituted by God.

Where does that leave us? I don't know. I love Christmas, for example; there seems to be no room for Christmas as a "feast day of holy obligation" within a framework which privileges the biblical text, but is there room to celebrate it as more than a merely pagan holiday? I'd like to think so. Other dates, even Easter, could be in question if Christmas is (to say nothing of "feast days" in honor of those designated specially as "saints"). Lent is likely out; season-based required fasting doesn't seem tenable. But is it biblical to include as much as we can on an optional basis, not judging others for deciding differently? Perhaps, perhaps not.

At any rate, I empathize with the desire to order our lives with something other than a flavored sauce.