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Despite its early connections to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced „sow-wen”), Halloween is a uniquely American holiday. Until recently, it was only in the US that we celebrated October 31st together by dressing up and sending our children door-to-door asking the neighbors for candy, and even that is a relatively new tradition.
In this week gastropod, Nicola Twilley and Cynthia Graber collaborate with historians Joanne Freeman and Heather Cox Richardson cohosts from Well then, also on the Vox Media Podcast Network. Together they look back on how Halloween got so big in the United States and how, with a sweet touch, it became synonymous with fun sized candy bars.
Freeman, a War of Independence and aftermath specialist at Yale University, describes Halloween as „something to do with marriage, civilism and candy and Christian fear.” So yes, as American as it gets! It originated in the US in the mid-19th century with the influx of immigrants from Ireland and the UK, where Samhain – centuries before – was Christian-owned and replaced by All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows Day, on November 1st. The day before it was All Hallows Eve or – as we know it today – Halloween.
There was a little witchcraft involved from the start as 19th century young women marked the day with rituals to predict their romantic futures. „[They’d] eat special foods with the idea that they will get visions from their future husbands, ”explains Richardson. „They peeled ples and tossed the ples over their shoulders, hoping they would fall into the pattern of their future husbands initials.”
Halloween also became a time for reckless pranks that were actually more like riot. To calm the crowds, organizations like the YMCA – were led by in the 1920s and 30s the effort a Cansan named Elizabeth Krebs – began hosting supervised parties, parades, and costume competitions. This also coincided with the fact that sugar became more affordable and so candy and Halloween were intertwined, a perfect fateful moment.
Well, in reality, there was also a big motive for candy companies to look forward to a holiday with less obvious and permanent religious themes. American families celebrated Halloween regardless of their beliefs, so they bought candy. Ca-ching! Candy companies made it.
Listen to the full episode to learn about the timeline of Halloween candy that went all the way to the panics of the ’70s and’ 80s about razor blades hidden in Ples, the introduction of hilarious candy bars (a reaction to the sluggish economy!) , and Halloween’s biggest ongoing debate: sweetcorn, disgusting scourge, or delicious seasonal treat?