October marks the start of myriad unofficial seasons: spooky season, pumpkin spice season, cuffing season, cozy season, hoodie season and, of course, decorative gourd season. (Or “szn,” for those inclined to abbreviate.)
But this fall season feels, somehow, even more seasonal than in years past. Google searches for “season” are at a high, with users recasting events large and small as seasons unto themselves.
For Harry Styles fans, the singer’s New York City tour dates mean that it’s Harry szn. Adele fans insist that her impending album is ushering in Adele szn. Those eager for the return of the Roy family to HBO are counting down to “Succession” szn, which begins Oct. 17. Football fans on Twitter use the hashtag #SeasonSzn, while baseball fans call the same period “Post Season SZN.” Toward the end of the month, people born under Scorpio skies will once again announce that their season has arrived.
Not all these seasons are sunny. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts October as the beginning of flu season. For those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, shorter days signal the start of “depression szn.” JoJo, the singer-songwriter, released an album on Oct. 1 chronicling her own mental health struggles; it includes a track called “Spiral Szn.”
Considering the flatness of time spent in quarantine and the sadness and isolation of the last year and a half, perhaps it’s not surprising that seasonal devotion has seeped into the lexicon.
Autumn provides a perfect opportunity. This year, Halloween consumer spending is expected to reach a record high, with sales projected to reach $10.14 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
Pumpkin spice, the flavor and much-ballyhooed badge of basicness, is back and incredibly popular. (Pumpkin-flavored products, in general, do quite well in the United States: In 2019, they were a $500 million industry, according to Nielsen data released just before the pandemic.)
“Pumpkin spice season” was spurred in large part by Starbucks, which debuted the pumpkin spice latte (known as the “PSL” to true believers) in 2003.
Sanja Gould, a spokeswoman for the coffee chain, balked at taking full credit for the seasonal trend, but did acknowledge the ferocity of pumpkin spice devotees. “There is definitely a fandom that’s out there for pumpkin spice, whether it’s at Starbucks or elsewhere,” Ms. Gould said over the phone. “We like to say that it birthed a movement and a fandom all of its own.”
But it’s not just coffee. Searches for “pumpkin spice latte” peak every year starting in September, yet it is pumpkin spice cookies that are the most searched pumpkin spice food in the United States, according to Google. Americans also searched pumpkin spice scented masks and candles and laundry detergent; pumpkin spice martinis and white Russians; and pumpkin spice pillows, blankets, pine cones and shower curtains. And don’t forget the pumpkin spice cheesecake enchiladas.
The desire to seek out seasonal scents and tastes isn’t new. But the pandemic has caused a shift in retail spending across the board, toward in-season purchasing and away from preseason purchasing, according to Marshal Cohen, the chief retail industry adviser for the NPD Group, a market research company.
In a phone interview, Mr. Cohen said that the lingering uncertainty of the pandemic now means “that you don’t buy anything until you know for sure that you’re going to need it.”
This has led to an increase in what Mr. Cohen calls “here and now” buying, meaning that most seasonal goods, like sweaters and school supplies, are being purchased when they’re needed rather than in advance. (But buyers beware: Disruption in the global supply chain, which has touched everything including minivans, dishwashers, sweaters and books, will continue to complicate seasonal spending.)
Consumer spending aside, embracing seasons offers a chance to inject levity into casual conversations and social media discourse. It’s an easy way for people to bond over their shared enthusiasms.
Spooky season, for instance, invites people who love vampires, ghosts and all things macabre to revel in their fervor for fear and love of camp.
On Twitter, some users like to change their display names to punny Halloween-themed handles at the start of October. (For example, someone named “Ferris Bueller” might change his name to “Scare-is Boo-ler.”) The first of the month also provides an excuse to resurface popular Halloween video clips, including the “KXVO pumpkin dance,” a 2006 viral clip of an Omaha newscaster dancing in a black unitard and pumpkin mask. And breaking out seasonal decorations — for yards, storefronts and haunted houses — provides an opportunity to mark annual change with tradition.
“Szn,” as a term and a state of mind, isn’t so different. It’s about acknowledging a cyclical trend, and giving it new life each time.
Susan C. Beachy contributed research.