|This article relies too much on references to primary sources. (August 2012)|
The Great Pumpkin is a holiday figure (comparable to Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny) in whom only Linus van Pelt seems to believe. Every year, Linus sits in a pumpkin patch on Halloween night waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear. Invariably, the Great Pumpkin fails to turn up, and a humiliated but undefeated Linus vows to wait for him again the following Halloween.
The Great Pumpkin was first mentioned by Linus in Peanuts in 1959, but the premise was reworked by Schulz many times throughout the run of the strip, and also inspired the 1966 animated television special It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and had a brief mention in You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown (in which the mention of it blows Linus' chances in a school election). The best-known quote regarding Linus and the Great Pumpkin, originally from the comic strip but made famous by the TV special, is: "There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin." While Schulz usually avoided outright politics, he enjoyed his Great Pumpkin strips and also enjoyed incorporating religious references in many of his comics and animated cartoons.
The Great Pumpkin has been a symbol of strong faith and foolish faith, leading to vastly different interpretations of creator Charles Schulz's own faith. As described in the book on Schulz's religious views, A Charlie Brown Religion, Schulz's views were very personal and often misinterpreted. Linus' seemingly unshakable belief in the Great Pumpkin, and his desire to foster the same belief in others, has been interpreted as a parody of Christian evangelism by some observers. Others have seen Linus' belief in the Great Pumpkin as symbolic of the struggles faced by anyone with beliefs or practices that are not shared by the majority. Still others view Linus' lonely vigils, in the service of a being that may or may not exist and which never makes its presence known in any case, as a metaphor for mankind's basic existential dilemmas. Charles Schulz himself, however, claimed no motivation beyond the humor of having one of his young characters confuse Halloween with Christmas. (In the 1959 sequence of strips in which the Great Pumpkin is first mentioned, for instance, Schulz also has Linus suggest that he and the other kids "go out and sing pumpkin carols," something he also asks the trick-or-treating kids in the special itself.)
Other references in popular culture
College football coach Dee Andros (1924–2003), was known by the nickname "The Great Pumpkin" as head coach (1965–1975) and athletic director (1976–1985) at Oregon State University in Corvallis. As the head coach of the orange and black Beavers, Andros had a round physique and often wore an orange windbreaker, He was first dubbed with the nickname in 1966 by a member of the Spokane press on Halloween weekend in Pullman, Washington, as his OSU team routed the host Washington State Cougars, 41–13.
In the late 1970s, Braniff Airways painted their fleet in bright colors, in order to give their fleet visual appeal and marketability. The airline's first 747-200 airliners were delivered painted in a striking shade of orange, causing several air traffic control centers across the USA to welcome the new Braniff acquisitions with the phrase "Welcome, Great Pumpkin." The 1973 Petersen Publications annual, Air Progress: World's Greatest Aircraft, had its chapter devoted to the 747 headed "The Great Pumpkin Lives!"
In 1996, Burlington Northern SD60M #9297 (renumbered 8197 in 2008, renumbered 1474 in 2014) was jokingly dubbed the "Great Pumpkin" by employees because of its bold orange paint scheme, one of many prototype paint designs created by the then newly formed Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), a merger of Burlington Northern and the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway (Santa Fe). This scheme eventually became the basis for BNSF's "Heritage I" paint design, while the "Great Pumpkin" nickname has stuck among railfans for this particular locomotive.
In the opening cameo of "Treehouse of Horror II" the Peanuts gang in Halloween costumes are passing in front of the Simpson house. The final segment of "Treehouse of Horror XIX" (the fourth episode of the twentieth season of The Simpsons), called "It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse", is a parody of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and contains numerous references to the Peanuts characters. Milhouse Van Houten wears the same clothes and plays the same role as Linus van Pelt. Lisa Simpson is modeled after Sally Brown, and Bart is patterned after Charlie Brown (even saying "Good grief!" at one point). A redesigned version of Santa's Little Helper can be seen sleeping atop his dog house a la Snoopy, while Homer is seen sleeping on top of the family house in a similar manner. When Marge first speaks, her voice is replaced with a muted trombone sound, a parody of the "wah wah wah" voice that is used for adults in the various Peanuts specials. The dance scene during the Halloween party is a parody of the dance scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas right down to Kang and Kodos in a nonspeaking cameo as the twins 3 and 4." Parts of the segment had music by Vince Guaraldi (best known for composing music for animated adaptations of the Peanuts comic strip), which they had obtained the rights to use. In the episode segment, Milhouse waits in a pumpkin patch on Halloween for the Grand Pumpkin (which Bart made up) with Lisa. After Lisa sees everyone at school having a Halloween party, she grows tired of waiting and leaves in frustration. Milhouse starts to cry and his tears and childlike belief bring the Grand Pumpkin to life. However, the Pumpkin is appalled to find that his kindred pumpkins are being carved up on Halloween and made into pumpkin bread, originally thinking it was bread especially made for pumpkins until Milhouse revealed it is made from them, and vows revenge. He devours Homer as he carves a pumpkin, then marches to the school and eats Nelson who threatens to stab a yellow pumpkin. It becomes apparent at this point that the Grand Pumpkin is racist towards this type of pumpkin and then eats Groundskeeper Willie after being offered roasted pumpkin seeds. Realizing that Milhouse can bring things to life by believing in them, Lisa tells him about "Tom Turkey," a symbol of Thanksgiving. Milhouse starts to believe in Tom Turkey, who comes to life and kills the Grand Pumpkin, freeing everyone he ate. However, when Tom Turkey learns that people eat turkeys on Thanksgiving from Bart, he vows revenge and starts angrily chasing children around the school, devouring some of them whole as Marge wishes the viewers happy holidays.
A sketch in the stop-motion parody show Robot Chicken featured a Peanuts parody in which Linus tires of never seeing the Great Pumpkin. He conducts a magical ritual involving a pentagram to summon the entity, which is revealed to be a Lovecraftian evil that feeds on children. The Pumpkin murders Linus and proceeds to stalk the other characters with similar intentions. Charlie Brown is saved by the similarly demonic Kite-Eating Tree, which consumes the Pumpkin. Charlie Brown declares that his deceased friends can now rest in peace. The murdered characters are then shown in Hell literally dancing with the devil as Schroeder plays his piano.
Italy and the "Great Watermelon"
When the Peanuts strip was first introduced in Italy, Halloween was almost unknown there as a festivity. The earlier translations turned the pumpkin into a watermelon ("Il Grande Cocomero") because it was felt as a more Mediterranean and understandable fruit-figure, and the intentional mistranslation did somehow stick in the Italian pop culture. There has been also a movie named after "Il grande cocomero" in 1993, directed by Francesca Archibugi.
The Major League Baseball player Dan Johnson is nicknamed "The Great Pumpkin" due to his orange-red beard and his notable late-season/autumn performance. Johnson was called to the majors late in three separate seasons (2008, 2010, 2011), and subsequently hit clutch home runs that propelled his team into the playoffs.
Wizard of Id
On October 30, 2015, the Wizard of Id comic strip made a tribute to Linus and the Great Pumpkin. The wizard makes a spell "making a dream come true for a special little boy". The last panel shows a large pumpkin, growling, chasing a boy who has a blue blanket (ostensibly Linus).
Licensed use on Poptropica
In October 2010, forty-four years after the initial airing of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the Great Pumpkin was the topic of a licensed use by the children's internet site Poptropica. The site's 15th quest (island) is "Great Pumpkin Island", and features several of the Peanuts characters interacting with the avatars of Poptropica players. True to previous Peanuts versions, the Great Pumpkin never actually appears.
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