Trick-or-Treating and Candy – The Sweetest Thing About Halloween

Trick-or-Treating and Candy – The Sweetest Thing About HalloweenYear after year on October 31st, millions of costumed children go house to house and shout the all too familiar “trick-or-treat” with an expected reward of some candy. Yet, it wasn’t always this way. The practice of trick-or-treating on Halloween is a relatively new one and it didn’t always include candy. This article is about the possible origin of trick-or-treating, how it has evolved, and why candy has become such a big part of it. 

Although it may seem like trick-or-treating and candy have always gone hand in hand, going house to house and getting a bucket full of candy on October 31st is a relatively new custom. Even though it has roots that go back thousands of years, trick-or-treating as we know it today has been around for less than 100 years and continues to evolve. In fact, it was not even a part of Halloween until the 1930’s. And even then it was much different than it is today and had surprisingly little to do with candy.

Why Trick-or-Treating

The practice of trick-or-treating may have begun with the ancients Celts. To defend themselves from evil, roaming spirits, the Celts would disguise themselves as one of them. Following this tradition, starting sometime in the late 1800’s, adults in Scotland would masquerade in hollowed-out turnips and go door to door begging for cakes and fruits. Although not widely known, this practice may have spread to the United States in the early 1900’s by way of the Irish and Scottish immigrants.

Prior to the 1930’s, celebrating Halloween was mostly adults getting together for parties while the neighborhood boys played pranks and wreaked havoc. Then in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, the ritual of going house to house with an expectation of receiving something started to spring up around the country. The late 1940’s saw the spread of trick-or-treating nationwide. Yet, candy was not the obvious choice of treat.

In the 1950’s, it was non-candy products such as toys, coins, cookies, and cakes that were the usual take. Some companies, like Kellogs and Kool-Aid saw a marketing opportunity by promoting cereal snack packs and a glass of soft drink for a Halloween treat. There was also a slight increase in Halloween advertisements related to candy but nothing like we see today. It was during this time that Halloween became less about adult parties and neighborhood pranks and more about children and fun. Yet, still not much candy.

Candy becomes a symbol of Halloween

Candy itself wasn’t really associated with the holiday until the 1960’s. As trick-or-treating got more popular and the number of kids knocking on doors increased, candy became an easy, economical, and convenient hand out. Companies, such as Brach’s, who were already used to promoting candy for Christmas and Easter were the first to react to the rise of trick-or-treating. Hence, small, inexpensive candies became popular and candy manufacturers followed suit by offering smaller portions of their usual, larger packages.

Then in the 1970’s, candy became the expected treat of choice. The candy industry realized that Halloween can be as big as and possibly bigger than the other two candy holidays, Christmas and Easter. To capitalize on the Halloween candy craze, candy companies like Rodda and H.R. Nicholson released holiday versions of their popular candy treats. Even with the scares of heroin-laced candy and razor blades in apples, treat-or-treating continued to grow and became an annual tradition.

Today, trick-or-treating is as popular as ever and candy remains an important part of it. Overall Halloween candy sales are still second to Christmas but for many candy companies it is the start of their most profitable season. According to the National Confectioners Association, Halloween candy sales industrywide exceed $2.3 billion with the bulk of the sales the week before the holiday.

The specific origin of trick-or-treating is not exactly known. It is most likely a mix of ancient Celt and Scottish tradition passed down for generations. What we do know is that candy and trick-or-treating are inseparable partners in this ever popular holiday tradition. A tradition that eventually evolved into what we know it as today, going house to house in spooky or silly costumes begging for a treat while threatening a trick.


Sources & References

www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news: The History of Trick-or-Treating
www.theatlantic.com: How Candy and Halloween Became Best Friends


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