During a season of spectres, shapeshifters, and apparitions that vanish in the night, we’d like to take a look at an October holiday that seems to have shimmered into existence a century or so ago but now can scarcely be found.
Halloween itself has, of course, changed shape over the years, as children–and adults!–have celebrated it in different ways depending on place and time. The holiday itself is very old, and means of commemorating it, both religious and secular, have evolved. Current celebrations might include decorating yards with shivery displays, dressing up, parading, and trick-or-treating to gather candy, but those elements have changed over time. The Library’s Headlines & Heroes blog notes that:
The act of going door-to-door for handouts has long been a part of Halloween revelries. But until the mid-20th century, the ‘treats’ children received were not necessarily candy. Things like fruit, nuts, coins, and toys were just as likely to be given out.”
Though candy was not necessarily always part of Halloween treats, it was a central part of another October celebration that is much less well-known today. For a time, a special day called “Candy Day” was promoted. (An internet search reveals a date for “Candy Day” this year, though it is not promoted as vigorously.)
What is Candy Day? In the October 14, 1916, issue of the Topeka State Journal, This is Candy Day proclaims that: “At the last meeting of the national association it was decided that one day should be set aside for candy eating, and the second Saturday in October was selected.” The article–or is it an advertisement?–does not specify which “national association” made that decision, but the last sentence offers a possible clue by attributing the question “why not a candy day?” to “the candy men.” That phrasing, paired with the suggestion to share boxes of candy with loved ones, implies that one goal of Candy Day was to sell more candy.
Candy Day was widely advertised in newspapers at the time. Focusing on one such page from a Utah paper both answers and prompts questions. For example, the invitation to “Send Utah-Made Candy To The Soldier Boys” serves as a reminder that the nation was at war. In addition, the page proclaims that “At the National Confectioners’ Convention…a Utah manufacturer suggested a National Candy Day.” This answers the question raised by “This is Candy Day” about the nature of the national association: they were confectioners, or candy makers. The page also suggests that one purpose of Candy Day was “educating the public regarding the value of candy as food…[because] candy, sugar, is a great source of energy.”
Students might find some interesting claims in these historical ruminations on candy! For example, Candy Eating suggests that “The latest scientific opinion gives four ounces of sugar as the proper daily consumption for the average individual.” To encourage students to evaluate the evidence supporting the claims they find in advertisements and other historical documents, How dandy was candy? Exploring Messages in Candy and Chocolate Advertisements offers strategies for teaching students how to analyze and evaluate advertisements. Students might also research to compare that claim to current recommendations on sugar consumption.
Are there other holidays or special days that have appeared, disappeared, or changed over the years? Students can explore the newspapers in Chronicling America to hunt them down.
Do you enjoy these posts? Subscribe! You’ll receive free teaching ideas and primary sources from the Library of Congress.