How Did Halloween Become the Candy Holiday?

POSTED ON JUNE 25, 2021   |   BY DANIEL ROTHSTEIN

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Ask any kid in America today and they will emphatically tell you, that candy is the essence of Halloween. But this tradition didn’t just come about randomly, it went through a centuries-long evolutionary process.

So, how did Halloween become the “candy holiday” as we know it today? And, where did trick or treating come from? These are all great questions with fairly intriguing answers - allow us to explain the history of Halloween!

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Halloween’s origins in the Celtic holiday: Samhain

Samhain (pronounced “SAH-win”) was a holiday celebrated around 2,000 years ago by ancient Celtics who lived in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and parts of northern France. This culture believed that on the night of October 31st, barriers between the physical world and spirit world would break, allowing the dead to return to our realm. On this sacred night, people from this culture would gather in town squares, lighting bonfires and sometimes even performing human sacrifices to honor the dead.

Halloween costume origins

During these celebrations, villagers would dress-up as animals or monsters so that these dead spirits would not bother them, thinking that they too, were “among the dead”. These were perhaps the first historical instances of what we would call a Halloween costume today.

How did Jack-O-Lanterns come to be?

An interesting bit of Halloween lore has also evolved from the Irish. The legend of Stingy Jack is a tale about a guy (named Jack) who tricked the devil into getting trapped, (multiple times) but let him go, under the condition that the devil would not take his soul. When Stingy Jack died, Heaven didn’t want him, (I mean, the guy did spend a lot of time with the devil!) and the devil actually kept his promise and wouldn’t let Jack into hell either. But he did give Jack a hollowed-out turnip with a piece of burning coal inside to use as a lantern to “go find his own hell”.

Thus, Jack was condemned to walk the Earth as a ghost, for all of eternity. He became known as “Jack of the lantern” or, “Jack-O’-Lantern”. Eventually, people started carving scary faces in hollowed-out gourds, such as pumpkins to scare away the evil spirits.

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The origins of trick-or-treating

Being that October is typically the end of the harvest season in the northern hemisphere, the Celts would also prepare large banquets and leave them out on tables and doorsteps to appease the unwelcome spirits. This tradition changed slightly in the first century CE.

How did Halloween become the candy holiday?

November 1st became the “Feast of All-Saints and All Souls” while the day before was known as “All Hallows Eve”. These holidays were quite different than the ancient Celtic celebrations, but some traditions remained largely intact, such as honoring the dead with food.

Instead of leaving the food out on their doorsteps, beggars would wander around villages and towns, promising to pray for the souls of their deceased relatives in exchange for food. By this time, people had begun making “soul cakes” which were small, round cakes, baked with sweets and spices. These crude, early treats would most likely be scoffed at by kids these days.

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Many of the beggars would wear costumes, dressing-up as saints to honor them and of course, to not get harassed by the evil spirits. This ritual was called “souling” and is believed by many historians to be the precursor to modern-day trick-or-treating.

How Halloween drastically changed in modern American culture

By the time this European holiday migrated to the United States in the mid-19th century, Halloween was used as a way to celebrate the end of the long, hard work performed during harvest season. Irish settlers, who fled to the US during the Irish potato famine of the 1840’s brought the celebration with them.

But it wasn’t until 1920 when the town of Anoka, Minnesota became the first town in America to officially celebrate Halloween. The town had been plagued by pranksters during previous years’ harvest celebrations, so the town decided to make a city-wide Halloween party. This gave their unruly teenagers something to do and allowed the town folk to come together and keep an eye on them.

Much of the food that was passed-around during these early celebrations on Halloween night consisted mostly of seasonal treats, like homemade baked goods, mixed nuts, caramel apples and even coins. You wouldn’t find candy at a Halloween party until the 1940’s and 50’s.

The post-World War II era, baby boomers and candy company marketing gimmicks made Halloween the holiday we’ve come to know and love today. Following the Great Depression and the Allied victory in WWII, the American suburbs were booming… Baby booming. In 1946, more babies were born (3.4 million) than any other year in US history. Trick or treating became popular and there were a lot more kids who were eager to celebrate it.

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As Halloween celebrations started to become commonplace, local candy stores and large candy companies began to take notice. They had already seen huge success in selling candy for holidays like Christmas and Easter and these businesses were looking for another opportunity to sell more candy in the fall. Since many kids went out on Halloween to trick or treat, candy stores and candy manufacturers began packaging different kinds of candy in smaller, bite-sized packages – perfect for trick or treating!

Chocolate candies like M&M’s were very popular at this time. Various “retro candies” that are still available today rounded out the mix: Pez, Necco Wafers, Pixy Stix and even Hot Tamales were quite common during the early Halloween celebrations in the United States.

It seems like our nation never looked back. In recent years, Halloween has surpassed Easter as the 3rd most popular holiday, just behind Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even a lot of adults are reliving their childhood and dressing-up in costume and consuming candy, just like they used to as kids.

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Today, there are thousands of popular candy options to keep your neighborhood trick or treaters happy. Whether you’re a small, local candy store, or a nation-wide convenience store chain, Redstone Foods can help you keep your shelves stocked and your customers coming back. Take a look at our huge selection and contact us with any questions you may have. We are always glad to help!