It wasn’t always ghastly wrappers and seasonal sentiments when it came to Halloween candy! Nowadays, Halloween candy is a requirement for the spookiest of days to make sure it’s all treats and no tricks. But if you were born before the 1950s, that wasn’t always the case. Check out this timeline to get an idea of just how candy came to be synonymous with Halloween.
Something Sweet for Samhain
Samhain (pronounced “SAH-win”) was (and still is!) a holiday celebrated by the ancient Celts in Scotland and Ireland. It’s a pagan celebration to welcome the harvest at the end of summer and welcome spirits back to earth for a night. People liked to light fires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts or pay tribute to them. Occasionally, that meant leaving out food and drink for spirits to take with them as they traveled the earth, which often included sweets or delights.
In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as a day to honor saints, and soon, All Saints Day included some of the same traditions of Samhain like food offerings. The evening before All Saints Day became known as All Hallows Eve, and later, Halloween (Library of Congress Blogs, Oct. 26, 2021).
Time for Taffy & Other Treats
Candy started to make its first appearance at American Halloween parties in the 1800s. Children wanted taffy that they could pull apart and enjoy as a go-to treat. By the mid-20th century, Halloween tricks had all but disappeared, and candy was the primary focus for children. Trick-or-treating started in the late 1930s, and children were given everything from homemade cookies and pieces of cake to fruit, nuts, coins, and toys.
However, during World War II, sugar was rationed and treats took a dive among other food and ingredient sources. It marked a time of low morale, so when the war ended, celebrating with sweets was back on the list. In the 1950s, candy manufacturers started to market candy as a convenient and affordable alternative to homemade goodies. (History, Oct 25, 2020).
Way to Go, Wrappers
Candy companies were already on top of things when it came to Valentine’s Day and Christmas, and they wanted a fall holiday to keep candy sales going. The first Halloween-styled candy was designed not for consumers, but for shopkeepers to convince them to promote candy in their stores around Halloween.
Companies like Curtiss (once-makers of Baby Ruth and Butterfinger), Lifesavers, and Beech-Nut would wrap wholesale boxes with Halloween-themed cellophane wrappers. The general public never saw these wrappers, though, because they were torn off before the candy reached the shelves.
But, in 1964, Helen Pfeil – a housewife in New York– decided to hand out poisoned candy buttons in an attempt to teach local teenagers that they were too old for trick-or-treating. Then, on November 2, 1970, 5-year-old Kevin Toston from Detroit died after eating what initial reports identified as laced Halloween candy (Fast Company, October 31, 2013).
It later turned out that the candy and unfortunate cause of death were unrelated, but parents were already in a panic to protect their children. Wrappers were added to consumer-facing candies, and Halloween-themed art became a huge part of the celebration to show that candy was fun but also safe!
Sweeter Times In-Store
Now, all the commotion around Halloween is still about the candy. We’ve kept up the sugar rushes and costumes, and thank goodness for wrappers. The evolution of handing out candy and how Halloween has become what it is today is a greater display of how different parts of history influence the future or tie into the past.
Stay safe this Halloween and enjoy something sweet on those of us at Vintage Gums - a true taste of the times with recipes dating back to the 1800s!