Sunday Candy

January 28, 2011 at 9:42 am 13 comments

When I was growing up, my mother took me and my brother and sister to church every Sunday. And on the way home, we always stopped at the candy store. Each of us got 15 cents, and we could eat our spoils however we liked. We called it “Sunday Candy.”

Where did this tradition come from? I’ve met a few other people who had similar Sunday rituals, but not many, so I conclude this was not a wide-spread practice. My mother grew up in Illinois, and has a vague recollection of candy on Sundays. My initial theory was that Sunday penance at church was matched by Sunday indulgence in the bon bon box.

I’ve found some references to the idea of “Sunday candy” as a special treat in the early 1900s. Especially where pennies for candy might be hard to come by, a child might get candy once a week, on Sunday. Newspaper ads from the period also promote special items for the “Sunday candy feast,” suggesting that it was a frequent custom for special family Sunday dinners to conclude with candy.

But I’m also beginning to suspect that Sunday Candy, like just about every other American candy tradition, was an invention of the publicity department at the National Confectioners Association. V.L. Price began beating the drum for holiday candy promotions in the 1920s (Halloween, St. Valentine’s Day, and more). And soon, candy promoters realized that boosting candy sales on holidays was only the beginning.

In 1928, the NCA sponsored a co-operative advertising campaign with the slogan “Sweeten the Day with Candy!” Ads in major magazines like the Saturday Evening Post encouraged Americans to enjoy candy every day. And as part of this campaign, ads included the reminder: “Take Home Candy for Sunday.” Promotions along these lines, with the same slogan, had appeared locally beginning in the early 1920s; the NCA was attempting to make the Sunday Candy idea a national tradition.

Here are some illustrations of this theme that appeared in the trade publication Confectioners Journal. These might have been used as window cards in candy stores or as images for ads in local papers.

Both these designs emphasize a connection between church and candy, without specifying what that connection might actually entail. The stained glass window and angelic choir certainly lend the product an aura of sanctity. Will candy eating get you to heaven a little faster? Or is candy a bit of heaven on earth?

Notice the promotion doesn’t say “buy candy on Sunday.” “Blue laws” limiting trade on Sundays were increasingly in force in the 1920s, and so in many communities most stores were closed. The idea was that mother or father would stop at the candy store on Friday or Saturday and stock up with boxes of family favorites for Sunday.

I found reference to one shop that offered a special weekend promotion: a pound each of chocolate, hard candy and gum drops for 99 cents. A mere three pounds of candy to get the family through the weekend.

Candy for the household at the week-end, a package of candy, good candy, that can reasonably be counted upon to please the taste in candies of all the grown-ups, the children, and any possible casual visitor, just the right variety and not too much of it, yet enough and not too expensive—that has become another of the housewife’s important problems in this candy-eating age.

Anyone else remember Sunday Candy? I’d love to hear your stories!

Quote is from “A Candy Method of Loft’s Inc.” Confestioners Journal Aug 1925, p. 105.

Entry filed under: Holidays, Marketing, WWI to WWII. Tags: , , .

Another Tootsie Girl Where’s the Caramel? Common American Candies, c. 1857

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rabbit  |  January 28, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    New reader: came to this blog from a NYTimes post. 🙂

    My family had a similar tradition, but for us it was Saturday evenings and McDonald’s, rather than candy. (We didn’t have many sweets in our house; not surprisingly, the minute I started earning my own money, I went on a several year candy/soda binge, around middle-school age.) My mother went to church on Saturday afternoons with those of us who had Sunday School, and then again on Sunday with the rest of us while Sunday School was going on in the parish hall next door. She would go early, and each week one or two of us would get to go early with her and enjoy the awesome and rare treat of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Sometimes we would even get an ice cream cone or sundae (also from McDonald’s) for dessert.

    We would get 7UP when we were sick, and my mother baked tons of cookies all of the time, but like the example in the NYTimes article that brought me to this blog, actual candy was a no-no, except on Christmas (in our stockings) and on Easter (little baskets with that plastic grass in them). I remember being in awe on a visit to an elementary-school friend’s house when she showed me a dresser drawer full of candy and chocolate in her bedroom. When her parents would give her candies and chocolates, she would hoard them in the drawer and never eat them. My 8-year-old self was beyond impressed at – and somewhat confused by – her self-control.

    • 2. Candy Professor  |  January 28, 2011 at 3:29 pm

      Welcome! I too recall being in love with McDonalds; for me it was the Big Mac. I also remember a tradition of going for donuts after church, although I can’t square Sunday Candy with the donuts, it’s way too many treats for one day! Childhood memories are tricky that way….

  • 3. Beth  |  January 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Every sunday after church, on the way home, we’d stop by the little cournty store where my mom would give me fifty cents for candy. I remember being torn between the 10 cent hershey bars and the 10 cent three musketeers. It was my reward for going to church and it is a memory I will always treasure.

    • 4. Candy Professor  |  January 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm

      You got FIFTY cents? Sheesh, I should have moved to your house! But with 5 dimes, you could have 2 Hersheys and 2 3 Musketeers and then some…

  • 5. Common Sense  |  January 28, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    We didn’t call it Sunday candy, but when we were at our cabin in the mountains on weekends in the summer, we would stop at the old-fashioned country store next to the church and my parents would treat us to candy or ice cream.

    The store was closed until after Mass was over and everyone would follow the owner over when he opened up to get their Sunday paper, mail if they hadn’t picked it up yet, and whatever supplies they needed.

    The store has been there since the 1800s and is made of stone. The floors are hardwood and the shelves are homemade. We still practice this tradition with our own kids, they still have the old-fashioned candy counter and freezer. They carry an interesting mix of candy, some stuff you see everywhere and other items like candy cigarettes that you don’t. They sell ice cream sandwiches and drumsticks individually. They still sell agriculture supplies so you’ll see bags of feed too. Very cool place.

    Here’s an interview:

    Click to access green.pdf

    Here’s a picture (it still looks like this):

  • 6. Patti  |  January 29, 2011 at 9:34 am

    In “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” I think it was on Saturdays that they’d go to Cheap Charlies to buy candy after they sold their scrap metal.

  • 7. Tim  |  January 30, 2011 at 1:32 am

    I come from Scandinavia and people there have a concept of sweets’ day. In Finnish it is called karkkipäivä and in Swedish lördagsgodis. Actually the latter translates to Saturday’s candy. Traditionally Scandinavian kids – including myself – got to eat candy only on Saturdays (and on Sundays if you had enough self-disciple not to eat all your candies the day before). Unfortunately nowadays kids eat candies all the time and, as a result, do not appreciate the indulgence as much.

    • 8. Candy Professor  |  January 31, 2011 at 10:52 am

      Thanks for sharing this! I wonder in Scandanavian tradition, what is the difference between Saturday and Sunday? I’m curious to what extend the “treats” are associated with a religious idea of “Sabbath” (seventh day of rest/exception), as opposed to some other kind of weekly rhythm.

      • 9. Tim  |  February 1, 2011 at 11:21 am

        Since Scandinavian people are not all that religious, our tradition may not have all that much to do with religion. In fact, it might be a question of pure convenience. Since all the shops in Scandinavia are closed on Sunday, kids can only pick their candies on Saturday. Moreover, schools are closed on Saturday, which makes it the best day of the week. On Sunday one has to start thinking about homework and the coming week.

  • 10. Amanda Bensen Fiegl  |  January 31, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Interesting! I grew up in a small town in Vermont in the 1980s, and each Sunday after church my friends & I would all beg our parents for a few quarters, then run down the street together to the general store to buy candy. We never called it “Sunday candy,” but I guess that’s what it was! I liked the the 10-cent candies best: those bizarrely stretchy Airheads, chalky “lipstick” in a plastic tube, or small boxes of Mike & Ike’s or Lemonheads…
    thanks for bringing back that memory. 🙂

    • 11. Candy Professor  |  January 31, 2011 at 5:26 pm

      Yeah, I know the ones you mean. Those were the 5-cent candies around 1970; candy bars were 10 cents still. I remember how fun it was to examine every kind of candy, do all the different math combinations, and delay and delay the final decision. I remember the buying so much more vividly than the eating!

  • 12. David  |  March 3, 2011 at 10:13 am

    I just ran across a mention of Sunday candy (while researching cake-baking) and remembered this post… It was in The New England Kitchen Magazine, August 1894 (available on Google Books), pp. 251-252, in an article about how much sugar people eat these days. The author insisted that candy was fine as long as you didn’t eat it willy-nilly. “In our homes we may well follow the example of a leading school for girls, where the best candies of a well-known manufacturer are provided for the Sunday dessert, with the understanding that the pupils shall not buy candies for themselves at other times.”

    • 13. Candy Professor  |  March 3, 2011 at 10:18 am

      Fantastic! Thanks for sharing this.


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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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