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The Great Pumpkin is a personage in whom only Linus van Pelt believes. According to Linus, the Great Pumpkin flies around bringing toys to sincere and believing children on Halloween evening. Every year, Linus sits in a pumpkin patch (a place Linus believes is the most sincere and lacking in hypocrisy) on Halloween night waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear. Invariably, the Great Pumpkin fails to turn up, but a humiliated yet undefeated Linus stubbornly vows to wait for him again the following Halloween. Linus acknowledges the similarities between the Great Pumpkin and Santa Claus, the existence of which Linus considers to be ambiguous (in the television special, Linus tells Charlie Brown he'll stop believing in the Great Pumpkin when Charlie Brown stops believing in Santa Claus, while writing to the Great Pumpkin that Santa Claus has better publicity). Charlie Brown attributes Linus's belief in the Great Pumpkin to "denominational differences". Linus is faithful to the belief of the Great Pumpkin, even creating a Great Pumpkin magazine at one point.
The Great Pumpkin was first mentioned by Linus in Peanuts in 1959, and Schulz reworked the premise many times throughout the run of the strip. It inspired the 1966 animated television special It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and had brief mentions in You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown (1972) (by which Linus almost blows his chances in a school election); It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (1974) in which Sally expresses her concerns about the Easter Beagle's reality to Linus, citing her previous experience with the non appearance of the Great Pumpkin; and You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown (1975), wherein Linus enters the pumpkin patch to make a makeshift motorcycle helmet for Charlie Brown for a motocross race, with Charlie being teased as being the Great Pumpkin by some race fans. It was also briefly referenced in The Peanuts Movie (2015), where Linus says he hopes the new kid in town, later revealed as the Little Red-Haired Girl, would be willing to believe in it. 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 incorporating religious references in many comics and animated cartoons.
Although the Great Pumpkin is supposedly believed in only by Linus—the strips of October 29 and November 1, 1961 make mention of officially reported Great Pumpkin sightings in Connecticut, Texas and New Jersey. In these strips, reports transmitted through indirect speech lead to phenomena of unreliable narration.
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 which he also asks the trick-or-treating kids in the special itself.
Other references in popular culture
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 host Washington State's Cougars, 41–13.
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In the late 1970s, Braniff Airways painted its fleet in bright colors, for 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 US 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.
The Cleveland Show
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 all 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 episode "Vegetable Funfest" of 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 burning a chicken in a pentagram to summon the entity, which is revealed to be Lovecraftian in nature, feeding on children. The Great 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 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 fruit-figure and its name sounded better. The intentional mistranslation did somehow stick in the Italian pop culture, so that it was kept in all the later translations. There was 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).
"Someone's sitting in a field, never giving yield. Sitting there with gleaming eyes. Waiting for Big Pumpkin to arise."
Licensed use in 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 online game Poptropica. The site's 15th island is Great Pumpkin Island, and features several of the Peanuts characters interacting with players. As the island follows the same plot as the original TV special, the Great Pumpkin does not appear, and turns out to be Snoopy with a pumpkin on his head.
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