Don’t forget to buy your Halloween candy early so you have time to buy more after you eat it all.
Late last week, a friend in New York lamented on Facebook that it was just a little too early for the stores to be putting out Halloween candy. Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute! It’s a month until Labor Day, followed by two more months until Halloween. What the hell is going on here?
I think it’s acceptable to start seeing Halloween candy in late September-early October. In 2010, it was estimated that Americans would spend about $2 billion on candy during the Halloween season. In 2016, that number rose to $8.4 billion. Think about that. Candy corn. Bite-size candy bars. Pumpkin-spice kisses. Likely, we wouldn’t even dream of eating candy corn any other time of the year because it tastes like crap!
The California Milk Processors Board states that “an average Jack-O-Lantern bucket carries about 250 pieces of candy amounting about 9,000 calories and about three pounds of sugar.”
Kids ringing a stranger’s doorbell in 1948 or 1952 received all sorts of tribute: Coins, nuts, fruit, cookies, cakes, and toys were as likely as candy. In the 1950s, Kool-Aid and Kellogg’s promoted their decisively non-candy products as trick-or-treat options, while Brach’s once ran ads for chocolate-covered peanuts during the last week of October that didn’t mention Halloween at all.
It took a while for candy to become what it is today, the very essence of Halloween. Going back even farther to the early decades of the century, before trick-or-treating spread across the land, candy didn’t have any special role to play in Halloween observance.
For youth, and especially boys, Halloween was the one night of the year when communities generally tolerated pranking, which might range from the clever or playful to the dangerous or destructive. Mailboxes, fences, streetcars, and gravestones were popular targets. The point was to cause mischief, not to gather treats. Halloween also wasn’t a gift-giving holiday, which in the case of Christmas and other early candy holidays provided the candy “hook.”
While the hooligans were out wreaking havoc, the more genteel would celebrate Halloween with parties. The menus and décor for these early Halloween festivities emphasized seasonal fruits. Pumpkins and apples were especially important. Making popcorn balls and fudge was sometimes part of the festive activities, but if there was purchased candy along the lines of candy corn or jelly beans, it was an afterthought.