Why Do We Hand Out Candy On Halloween? A Brief History

Published August 18, 2022
passing out Halloween candy to trick or treaters in costumes

For many, Halloween festivities center around candy. If you're wondering why you hand out candy on Halloween, the answer dates back to the 1950s. Before candy became the go-to treat in exchange for tricks, people passed out homemade cakes, popcorn balls, fruit, or coins. Candy manufacturers saw this as an opportunity to offer an economical alternative to these time-consuming baked goods: packaged candies. From candy corn to chocolate bars, Halloween candy is still a staple in modern All Hallows' Eve celebrations.

Why Do You Hand Out Candy on Halloween?

Trick-or-treating hasn't always involved sacks of sugary candy, but its origins did incorporate other types of treats. Souling during Samhain involved people in need going door-to-door for "soul cakes." These were spiced cookies made to honor the dead, and those who received them promised to pray for the deceased. Another early Halloween tradition, known as guising, featured children in disguises who would knock on people's doors to collect food for the Samhain celebration.

These traditions evolved into what we know as modern trick-or-treating in the 1930s. However, even during the early 20th century, people did not hand out candy. Instead, it was customary to offer trick-or-treaters baked goods like cakes, cookies, and popcorn balls, or nuts, fruits, or coins. But making these treats was time-consuming and expensive.

The Rise of Commercial Halloween Candy

When sugar rationing ended post-World War II, candy manufacturers started to market candy as a convenient alternative to homemade goodies. So, trick-or-treaters began to fill their bags with treats like Milky Way bars, Pixy Stix, and licorice.

However, after an incident in 1974 involving poisoned candy and unrelated reports of razor blades found in Halloween apples, a wave of fear swept parents across the United States. Sealed commercial candy soon became the only suitable or safe option. Today, people still hand out individually wrapped candy as well as safe non-food alternatives like toys or crayons.

Traditional Halloween Candies

bowl halloween candy corn

Some of your favorite traditional Halloween candies have actually been around since long before modern trick-or-treating started.

Candy Corn

People have enjoyed candy corn since the late 1880s, though it wasn't originally created as a Halloween candy. These little nuggets were called "Chicken Feed" because it was made to look like corn chicken feed. Considering candy corn didn't cost much to make, it was often referred to as one of the popular "penny candies." Candy corn's popularity increased in the 1950s thanks to the trick-or-treating craze and its compatibility with the fall harvest theme. Even though it's a Halloween staple, October 30th is officially National Candy Corn Day.

Milky Way

The caramelly, chocolaty Milky Way bar you know today was created in 1923. When trick-or-treating took off, these bars were advertised as the answer to the question "Tricks or treats?" along with other Mars products like Snickers. In 1961, a smaller version of the traditional candy bars was released. Milky Way bars are still found in most trick-or-treating sacks today.

Smarties or Rockets

There's no question a roll of Smarties, or Rockets, if you're in Canada, has made its way into your Halloween bag. These rolls of sweet tablet candies were first introduced to the candy scene in 1949. Since then, they've become the candy trick-or-treaters love to hate each Halloween season.

Most Popular Candy to Hand Out on Halloween

Today, there's a wide range of Halloween candy you can choose from. If you want to earn the title of "most popular house on the block," you could choose to hand out one of these popular Halloween candy types.

  • REESE'S Peanut Butter Cups
  • M&M's
  • Sour Patch Kids
  • Skittles
  • Hershey's Kisses
  • Starburst
  • 3 Musketeers

It Wouldn't Be Halloween Without Candy

Handing out candy on Halloween is a newer tradition that was driven in part by candy manufacturers. Even so, trick-or-treating is an exciting activity that families, groups of friends, and even canine companions can bond through. Whether you're the one receiving the treats or handing them out, it's fascinating to understand the story behind why you hand out candy on Halloween.

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Why Do We Hand Out Candy On Halloween? A Brief History