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Halloween: The Sugar-Coated Holiday

Andrew Smith, editor of the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, wants to make sure you know what you are getting into this Halloween. In the post below Smith helps us understand the history of the holiday which inspires both cute bunny and naughty nurse costumes.

On the evening of October 31, an estimated 41 million children aged 14 and under, dress in costumes, and go house-to-house yelling, “Trick or treat.” Halloween derived from a Celtic holiday called Samhain, which celebrated the end of summer. Christianity established November 1 as All Saints Day, and its “eve” was celebrated the night. Halloween traditions were brought to American by Irish immigrants in the mid to late nineteenth century.

food-and-drink.jpgHistorically, In America children would have celebrated Halloween at parties. Games played at these parties included bobbing for apples. In this game participants tried to remove the apple from a bowl filled with water without using their hands. In another game, participants were expected to eat sweets on strings without using their hands. These games were likely the precursors to handing out sweets, such as caramel apples, popcorn balls and candy. Before World War II, children began dawning costumes and visiting neighboring homes seeking candy and sweets.

The first commercial candy associated with Halloween was chicken feed (also called candy corn)– a triangularly-shaped and three colored spike, which was invented by Herman Goelitz Candy Company about 1898. It was a lowcost treat that was sold in bulk containers– which just perfect for feeding children at parties. Candy corn remains a big treat at Halloween. It has been estimated that children consume more than 20 million pounds of candy corn annually. This works out to about 8 billion kernels.

The practice or giving out apples and other homemade treats declined after 1967 when reports circulated of pins and razor blades in apples and other adulterated candies that had been passed out to children. A few reports were authenticated; others were hoaxes. Whatever the risk, most parents threw out candy that children collected that was not commercially produced and wrapped.

It will come as no surprise that candy manufacturers have greatly encouraged the practice of giving out sweet treats. According to the National Confections Association, which has strongly supported the tradition of giving candy on Halloween since the 1930s, more than $2 billion of candy is sold just before Halloween– more than is sold before any other holiday. Halloween is also celebrated in other countries, including Ireland, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, in a similar manner as it is in the United States.

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