Candy and Halloween Parties before 1920

October 22, 2010 at 9:30 am 9 comments

In North America, Halloween parties have long been a favorite way to mark the holiday. The first descriptions of parlor gatherings come from the 1870s; by the 1890s the festivities were well established, with a variety of favorite games and activities and of course foods and decorations. Then as today, Halloween parties have always had a place for candy. But the kinds of candy, and the role of candy in the festivities, have changed pretty dramatically.

From the American Girl’s Handy Book (1888), a full chapter on festivities for “All Hallow Eve”, wherein candy makes a brief appearance:

Putting aside conventionality and dignity as we laid aside our wraps, ready for any fun or mischief that might be on hand, we proceeded down-stairs and into the kitchen, where a large pot of candy was found bubbling over the fire. This candy, poured into plates half-full of nuts, was eaten at intervals during the evening, and served to keep up the spirits of those who were inclined to be cast down by the less pleasing of Fortune’s decrees.

Ideas for a Halloween party in 1894 published in The American Agriculturalist included these proposals for refreshments: nut cake, pop corn, molasses candy and “as many more goodies as one cares to provide.”

In these pre-1900 party scenes, the candy references are decidedly turned toward the home-spun. Molasses candy could be purchased, but it was also a simple candy to make oneself, by cooking down molasses to candy consistency. As the American Girl’s Handy Book suggests, home candy making was a fun activity, especially suited to the colder fall and winter months.

The use of manufactured candy at Halloween only slowly became a common practice.  The children’s magazine St. Nicholas describes in detail the decorations, refreshments, games and entertainments for a children’s celebration of Halloween in 1905. Candy makes one brief appearance as part of the dining table décor: “The dining-table was set with a group of carrot candlesticks and bowlfuls of apples, nuts, grapes, and candy.” The story does not specify what sorts of candy are in the bowls. Here is an image:

Is there even any candy in this picture? The predominance of apples, grapes and nuts suggests that candy’s place in the 1905 Halloween decorating and treating scheme was minimal.

Where purchased candy is incorporated into the party, it is not necessarily any special kind of candy. For example, in 1917, the Kansas chapter of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity reported:

On October 20 the annual tacky party was given. Arriving in a hayrack, the guests entered the house by way of the kitchen door. The rooms were decorated with corn and witches in true Halloween fashion. Popcorn, apples, penny candy sticks, doughnuts, pie, and cider were served. The party was one of the most successful in the chapter’s history.

The “penny candy sticks” featured in Phi Gamma Delta’s Halloween romp were just about the most ordinary sort of candy you could find in those days. And in these Menus for Halloween Suppers featured in the October 1915 issue of American Cookery (the magazine of the Boston Cooking School) the proposed molasses candy, caramels and marshmallows were year round popular commercial candies. Notably, one of the three menus has no candy at all:

Hot Bacon Sandwiches
Potato Salad
Pickles Olives
Toasted Marshmallows
Pop Corn Balls

Hot Cheese Sandwiches
Cucumber Sandwiches
Yeast Doughnuts, Sugared
Molasses Candy

Oyster Salad
Buttered Rolls
Chocolate E’clairs
Roasted Chestnuts

Today, many Americans and parents especially are beginning to feel like the candy at Halloween has gotten a little out of hand. These party descriptions and ideas from a century ago might be good inspiration for a way of celebrating a less candified Halloween.  Halloween Donuts, anyone?

More: An excellent book on the history of Halloween in North America (but not, alas, much on candy) is Nicholas Rogers, Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night (Oxford University Press, 2002).

Entry filed under: 1890 to WW I, Holidays.

Halloween and Candy: BFF? Three Course Meals Coming Soon to a Gum Near You

9 Comments Add your own

  • […] Candy Professor did a great article – Candy and Halloween Parties before 1920 – and candy was not the main treat by any means: The children’s magazine St. Nicholas […]

  • 2. donna Gambol  |  October 27, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Great Article….glad I found your site through the NYT story. I”m bookmarking it!

    Whoo Hoo!

  • 3. Desiree  |  October 27, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Your articles are great; I wish I had found you sooner! I really enjoyed the NYT article as well, there were some great pictures. Happy Halloween!

  • 4. Phil Pauley  |  October 27, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    There is a new book at my library full of Hallowe’en postcards that show many of the old games,candy,etc.

    • 5. Candy Professor  |  October 27, 2010 at 9:38 pm

      What’s the name? I’d like to look it up!

  • 6. propublications  |  October 27, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    “Ideas for a Halloween party in 1894 published in The American Agriculturalist included these proposals for refreshments: nut cake, pop corn, molasses candy and ‘as many more goodies as one cares to provide.’”

    Molasses candies described as goodies? No way. Man o’ man these are those dreaded little candies that were wrapped in the orange wax paper wrapper with the witch and cat silhouettes on them that my old neighbour Mrs. Shwartzberg used to give us as kids.

    I’m willing to bet that the ones I still see in the dollar stores were made in 1894.

    • 7. Candy Professor  |  October 27, 2010 at 9:39 pm

      Thank goodness for VARIETY! And here’s a fun fact about molasses candy: in the 1800s it was used as a laxative suppository. Really.

      • 8. g  |  October 28, 2010 at 1:13 pm

        wow! LOL

        Hi, read about you on the NYT, you rule! =D

        GREAT blog!


      • 9. Jon  |  October 28, 2010 at 1:26 pm

        HA! That explains the flavour.

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

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Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

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