Today, it’s common knowledge to associate Halloween with candy and it’s typically the only day of the year when parents let their children indulge in their favorite sweets. While this is the Halloween we all know and love now, candy and Halloween didn’t always go hand in hand.
Early tradition of Halloween began in Europe where children and poor people in Great Britain and Ireland sang prayers for the dead in exchange for “soul cakes.” This tradition of “souling” occurred during the Medieval period. There are also records of Halloween traditions in 1895 when children received money, fruit and cakes as a reward for dressing in costumes.
Then the tradition came to the United States and it quickly became a national phenomenon, but traditions were more so “tricking” than “treating.” Halloween was the only night when people tolerated pranks, especially from young boys. Young hooligans wreaked havoc in the streets for the pure enjoyment of openly causing mischief.
When the idea of trick-or-treating in the late 1920s came about, homeowners bribed children with treats in return for them not harming their property. This tradition didn’t become widespread in the United States until the late 1940s and while candy is what fills the children’s buckets and pillowcases today, trick-or-treating in the past didn’t provide kids with a loot of sweets. When children rang the doorbell of stranger’s homes during that time, they were likely given homemade treats such as cookies and cake, as well as nuts, fruit, toys and coins.
During the early 1900s, candy makers typically used Christmas and Easter to market their products and didn’t see Halloween as a potential success for their business until 1950 when they started pushing their treats towards this fun-filled holiday. Kool-Aid and Kellogg even tried promoting their non-candy products for Halloween but the idea didn’t stick.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that factory-wrapped candy became the popular choice of treat that parents gave away and allowed their children to receive. Sealed, store-bought treats were easy to buy and distribute, as well as safer for their children to consume and less likely to be tampered with by real-life boogeymen. Homemade treats were easier to poison and posed risks for the children. There were widespread rumors of apples being embedded with pins and razor blades in the United States and while there was no evidence of this, hospitals offered free X-rays of the children’s Halloween collection in the wake of all the hysteria.
Now thankfully, candy and other store-bought snacks are what children come home with and it’s estimated that Americans spend $2 billion on candy during this season. But before you let your children chow down on their haul, remember this: a typical Jack-O-Lantern bucket holds around 250 pieces of candy, which is 3 pounds of sugar, which equates to 9,000 calories. Good luck getting those little ones to bed!
Read more about the history of Halloween in America.