Tidbit Tuesday: Candy and Trick-or-Treating

Wut wuuuuuut it’s time for another Tidbit Tuesday!


I had a discussion the other day with my coworkers about how we trick-or-treated. There was talk of plastic orange pumpkins, shopping bags, and pillowcases (my weapon of choice). One girl even used a McDonald’s Happy Meal box. Then we talked about how awesome candy is and everyone should eat candy all the time and then not get obese and die.



But why do we trick-or-treat for candy on Halloween? Where did that tradition start? When did it start? Why candy?



Well, it started in America. To understand why it started we need to talk a little about the beginning of Halloween in North America. Very, very briefly.



In the late 19th century, there was a huge influx of Irish and Scottish immigrants into North America. They brought with them Halloween traditions (which included cross dressing, fortune telling, and general destruction) that morphed into a sort of ethnic celebration. In both America and Canada, the Irish and Scottish wanted Halloween to celebrate their heritage.

“Snap-Apple Night” by Daniel Maclise, c. 1832


It didn’t really stay that way. In Britain, Halloween came five days before another holiday, Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes Day, also known as Plot Night or Bonfire Night, is celebrated on November 5th. It commemorates the day Guy Fawkes was caught guarding explosives under Westminster Palace intended to assassinate King James I. The day was celebrated by burning effigies of Guy Fawkes in huge bonfires. Over time it turned into a way for people to show their displeasure with prominent figures, like the Pope or Margaret Thatcher. From there it morphed into a night for boys to wreak general havoc. Soon they began wreaking general havoc earlier and earlier until it started five nights before, on October 31st.

Please understand that was an extremely abridged version of the whole history. If you want more detail, might I suggest Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, by Nicholas Rogers.


All that came to North America too, but mainly the wreaking of general havoc. Up until 1930s, the American youth (mostly boys) would cause extensive property damage (flipping over cars, tearing down mailboxes, removing gates, etc), cross dress, and cause physical harm by filling stockings with chalk or flour and whacking each other (the chalk and flour served as proof of a hit). There were also occasions of physical attacks on unpopular neighbors or homeless people. Summed up, the essence of Halloween was “robbery, destruction, arson” (Rogers 75).

Halloween pranks from a 1907 copy of the New York Herald.


Eventually, the unofficial holiday became so destructive (there were deaths, people) that America decided it was high time for a bit of a change. To try and tame the holiday, Americans began introducing activities to make it more family friendly. Things like dances for adolescents at community buildings, Halloween parties and haunted houses at home for children, and trick-or-treating.

Yeah, cause this is way less creepy, 1909.


During Halloween’s more dangerous years, the young’uns would hold shopkeepers ransom and demand a treat or else. They did the same to individuals, but instead of holding the person random, the boys threatened physical harm or property damage. The goodies could be nuts, apples, small coins, and the occasional candy. Finally, shopkeepers and residents got angry. Some resorted to gun violence to control the situation. America realized they needed a way to turn the idea of playing a trick to get a treat into an innocent activity. By turning it into a night for children to dress in costume and adorably yell “trick-or-treat!” and get something good to eat, the public began to decrease the amount of pubescent mob violence. Trick-or-treating first showed up around 1939 but didn’t take hold until the late 1940s.

I wasn’t aware that Halloween was merry.


So, when did candy happen? It took a little while. In the beginning, children were given coins, nuts, fruits, cookies, cakes, and even toys. Candy companies didn’t even think to advertise candy for Halloween. Their main candy holidays were Christmas and Easter so all their advertising focus went there. Instead, there were a plethora of ads for non-candy products, like nuts and cookies. Even Kellogg’s and Kool-Aid advertised their products as Halloween treats. The funny thing is, since 1916, candy companies were trying to introduce something called Candy Day to the American public as another way to boost their sales. They didn’t even think of Halloween. That’s like the Alanis Morissette definition of irony.

Of course, rain on your wedding day is ironic, Alanis. Facepalm.


UPDATE: Apparently, November 4th is National Candy Day. I have no idea if this is the same Candy Day the candy companies were planning.

Once Halloween became more of a “thing” around the 1950s, candy treats grew in popularity. Candy was easier to buy and easier to distribute, not to mention cheaper than handing out coins to the multitudes of children prowling through neighborhoods. The rise in Halloween sales prompted candy manufacturers to make smaller candy bars and bags, and thus fun-size was born. And every child everywhere hates them for it.



Candy didn’t reach its Halloween peak until the 1970s when fears of tampered Halloween give outs sprang up. Parents were frightened by stories of razors in apples, heroin laced cookies, and various sharp things in various treats. That made commercially wrapped and packaged candies even more appealing. If the wrapper was sealed there was no way their kid’s Pixie Stix were laced in cyanide.

Yes, that actually happened.

It was done by this guy right here. Ronald Clark O’Bryan.


That being said, many of the stories weren’t true. A lot of them were told just to stir up trouble and panic. Or they were super hyped up. “In 1982, when the Tylenol poisonings deluged the news networks, public fears of tainted treats generated what one Food and Drug Administration official termed a bout of ‘psychosomatic mass hysteria’” (Rogers 94). So we could say the rise of candy on Halloween isn’t due to its popularity as a fun and delicious treat at all. It’s due to mass hysteria.

And people who make bad photoshops. Not me.


And that is why we trick-or-treat for candy on Halloween.

Keep eating and asking, my friends.



-Kawash, Samira. “How Candy and Halloween Became Best Friends – Samira Kawash – The Atlantic.” The Atlantic – News and analysis on politics, business, culture, technology, national,  international, and life – TheAtlantic.com. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 21 Oct. 2010. Web. 16 Oct. 2012. <http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/10/how-candy-and-halloween-became-best-friends/64895/>.

-Rogers, Nicholas. Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA, 2002. Print.

4 thoughts on “Tidbit Tuesday: Candy and Trick-or-Treating

  1. Emma says:

    Thats really interesting. I have just stumbled on your blog through foodie penpals, and it has knocked my socks off. Can’t wait to read more!

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