The average American will spend $66.28 on Halloween this year, $20.29 of which will go toward candy purchases, according to the National Retail Federation. (Costumes are the No. 1 expense.)
But when trick-or-treating first became popular in the 1920s, children received whatever neighbors had on hand: apples, pastries, breads and even money. Flash-forward to the 21st century: We now spend $1.8 billion on Halloween candy each year—so, what has changed?
“Companies went after Halloween candy a long time ago,” says Nancy M. Childs, PhD, a professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “Candy companies are active and aggressive marketers who offer convenient, prepackaged treats to fulfill the tradition. Halloween is now a model for other holidays—candy baskets for Easter, candy canes for Christmas, holiday-themed M&Ms, chocolates for Valentine’s Day.”
When Americans began rewarding children with candy in the late 19th century, sweet treats were soon associated with celebrations and emotional satisfaction. Dr. Childs demonstrates this psychological connection in her classes through a candy-association exercise, in which each student receives a Hershey’s Kiss. She then asks students to verbalize their associations with the candy.
“The students are always amazed at how many vivid and emotional memories they have wrapped inside a Hershey’s Kiss: childhood, holidays, favorite times, grandparents,” she says. “This emotional connection is very real.”
In the end, Dr. Childs encourages consumers to enjoy sweet treats in moderation.
“Fun occasions like Halloween should be enjoyed for just what they are—fun and occasional,” she says.
Editor’s Suggestion: Pack some fresh fruit into your organic Halloween celebration with our recipe for Chocolate-Dipped Halloween Apples (right).