One of my friends teases me about “pumpkin time” when we go out in the evening.  I tend to set an end time that I need to be home, usually because I need to be up for work, sometimes in order to get a blog post in by midnight.  His reference is to the carriage from Cinderella; at midnight it turned back into a pumpkin.

Because this is the season for pumpkins, his comment tonight made me start pondering this odd fruit that has so many cultural meanings.  (It has seeds on the inside; botanically it is a fruit.  The seeds are quite tasty, in fact.)  Cultural phenomena are always interesting to consider as a writer, because they give us both a point of reference and a bias in our writing.

Like so many other squashes, the pumpkin ripens in fall and early winter.  This is why the pumpkin spice craze hits every year around this time; if you like pumpkin, there are many foods and beverages for you to enjoy right now.  Pumpkin pie, pumpkin breads, and other pumpkin treats are associated with both Thanksgiving and Christmas in the United States due to the seasonal nature of the plant.

In addition, we have the other holiday associated with pumpkins: Halloween.  Jack-o-lanterns are probably being carved as we speak to decorate front porches, homes, and businesses across the country.  Some are spooky, some are intricate, and some are just fun, but all are a childhood tradition writ large.  I have fond memories of the newspaper-lined kitchen table, slimy pumpkin guts making a mess everywhere, and orange shapes cut from pumpkin flesh to make a grinning face.  I suspect that adults who carve artistic or disturbing pumpkins have similar memories from their early years.

To wrap up this wander through the pumpkin patch, I also need to mention the nickname “Pumpkin” that is often used for kids.  It is often spoken in a sweet tone, especially for small or cute children (or those that are both).  For some it sticks, and their parents use it into their teen or adult years.  I don’t know why this large, round, orange squash has become a term of endearment, but it has.

With that, it is my true “pumpkin time” and I am heading for my pillows.  Enjoy your favorite pumpkin of the season, be it carved, pie, or latte!

How Do You Know It’s Your Birthday?

After watching Tangled and working on Mara’s story, I’ve been thinking a lot about how a person knows their birthday.  It seems so natural to us that someone would know the date of their birth, but there are lots of factors that actually contribute to that knowledge.

Think about it.  There are three major things that need to happen for your birthdate to really stick as important information.

1. You have to use a calendar.  This sounds ridiculous, right?  Everybody uses a calendar.  Or do they?  What if the day of the week, or the number of the day, didn’t matter?  What if every day was the same in your culture, if only big things like full moons or the changes of seasons were really distinct enough to register?  If a group of people doesn’t divide time into an equivalent of months and years, then how would someone be able to pinpoint the exact anniversary of the day they were born?

2. Someone has to tell you.  You weren’t able to tell time when you were born, so someone (usually a family member) had to witness your birth, record the date, and then share that information with you when you were old enough to get it.  This is where my train of thought started, because Mara was sold to a slave trader when she was born.  Normally, that would put her in a situation that negates all of the above; no one is going to record the date and mark it later.  Fortunately, she’s born during a lunar eclipse, giving her a nickname that has to be explained, and so she does have knowledge of when she was born, if not the exact date at first.

3. You have to use it for something.  We celebrate birthdays, and write them down on licenses and applications, and generally use birthdate as part of our identification and identity.  This is the big reason why you can just spout off a date when someone asks, and why that little box on the calendar looms large.  You use it, so it’s important enough to remember.  This is the one that makes Tangled feel just a bit off every time I watch it.  Rapunzel’s captor blows off her birthday as no big deal, with a “Your birthday was last year” response.  If her “mom” doesn’t celebrate it or mark it, we get a bit of the previous issue and a lot of this one.  I don’t know how Rapunzel knows when her birthday is – we’ll have to assume she was told at some point – but we do know why the date is important to her: the floating lanterns that she sees every year.

This train of thought can also lead into the many different ways you can develop a fantasy culture, because how a group of people denotes age or marks time can be a fun way to give the reader a sense of difference from their own lives.  Perhaps I’ll chase this path tomorrow!