All Hallow’s Eve; the wheel has turned, the veil has thinned, and the air is filled with… Halloween Candy? How did this night, often sacred to witches, become so associated with Halloween candy? To understand the evolution of this candy goldmine, we have to go back and take a brief look at the History of Halloween and of Halloween candy.
Centuries ago, in the pre-Christian Celtic lands of Scotland, Ireland, and the Aisle of Man, the end of the harvest season and the beginning of Winter was marked by the festival of Samhain (pronounced as sow-in). Known as the Witch’s New Year, Samhain was celebrated with bonfires and many traditions built around the idea of the “thinning of the veils,” that time when the separation between our world and other realms is at is thinnest, making communication or even travel between worlds the easiest.
That is the reason why on this night, so many rituals and, in relatively modern times, seances, are often held on Halloween Night as the holidays are celebrated from sundown to sundown, much like it is on the Jewish calendar as well. So Samhain night was a time of festivity, bonfires, and sometimes costumes or disguises believed to either honor the spirits of other realms, or to hide from them, and it was common to set out treats, food, or drink for the spirits. But how did Halloween candy enter the picture?
One thing that the pagan Celts and the Christians who began to move into the aisles shared in common was the belief that when this physical body expires, we go on. Our souls, our essence, our unique individuality continues its existence in some form or another after our earthly, human bodies cease to be. So the idea of those who have passed away still existing in another realm in some way became a prominent feature of Samhain and of what we now know as Halloween.
As the church took hold in the aisles, they tried to blend or overshadow the existing customs with their own because the traditions and beliefs were too strongly rooted in a culture many Christians wished to be abandoned altogether. So November 1 became All Saints Day, the later All Soul’s Day, and the night before became known as All Hallows Eve, or, Halloween. It was a common belief that the prayers of the living would help the souls of the dead find peace, forgiveness, or entrance into heaven, and on this night dedicated to remembering the dead, the poor would often go from house to house and offer their prayers for the recently departed in exchange for bread, cakes, or other food, a precursor to trick or treating. But the tradition of Halloween candy would not come until much, much later.
Halloween candy is very much an American invention. In the early 1900s, Halloween night was a night of chaos in the inner cities when the town’s young boys would run lose with pranks, vandalism, and even fires. Desperate to curb the destructive behaviors of the night, communities began to organize events for the kids; parties, and, yes, trick or treating, hearkening back to the old traditions of the holiday’s origin where people began to offer treats in hopes of avoiding the “tricks” of the night. At first, seasonal fruits, nuts, and small toys were favored over Halloween candy. Candy companies were looking for a way to boost fall sales and saw this as their golden opportunity — and thus Halloween candy was born.
Halloween candy now sees more than $2 billion in sales each year. Halloween candy has now become the staple of the night as kids of various ages go door to door in search of Halloween candy, still keeping with the tradition of costumes or disguises. While Halloween candy takes front and center in the modern celebrations, Halloween candy has not been without its concerns.
Over the years Halloween candy has been a source of fear all of its own as parents worried over rumors of poisoned Halloween candy or stories that Halloween candy, and apples in particular, contained needles or razor blades. This fear of tainted Halloween candy most likely originated with a story from 1974 in which Ronald Clark O’Bryan poisoned his children to collect on their life insurance policies. He also attempted to poison a few other children in the area with the Halloween candy in order to cover up the homicide of his eldest son. The plan was uncovered, however, and none of the other children were harmed by the poisoned Halloween candy. O’Bryan was sentenced to death row in Texas and was executed in 1984, but his legacy has lived on in the stories of scary Halloween candy. Other than this one incident, researchers have found no confirmed reports of tainted Halloween candy, and these days the sugar content is much more frightening than any malicious Halloween candy tales.
Now that you know where the tradition of your Halloween candy came from, enjoy the spooky treats of the Witch’s New Year. In moderation, of course!