Halloween :: The Billion Dollar Holiday

When I think of "money maker" holidays, the first one that comes to mind is Christmas.  Between holiday decor, parties and gifts, I imagined it to be the highest grossing holiday in the US (which it is), but imagine my surprise when I read that Halloween was a BILLION dollar holiday! Oh, and that number is based on candy alone.

candy corn.jpg

Boiled down, Halloween represents sugar and fear. Think about it: horror movies and trick-or-treating are what give Halloween it's modern day place on the calendar, while historically it was about preservation and warding off evil spirits during the ancient pagan Celtic festival,  Samhain, during which Celtics would use honey, and later sugar, to preserve their perishables and prepare their summer bounty for the winter ahead. Historian and candy expert Beth Kimmerle tells Fast Co, "Humans just instinctively want to prepare their bodies for the winter by eating sweets, meaning we've had this perfect metabolic storm that has lead people to eat more sugar around the end of October." Every year, the end of summer harvest coexisted with the opening of a metaphorical window into the spirit world and October 31st has always been a colliding day for sweets and the supernatural.

As the Celtic clan ate sweets, they would paint their faces black, to appease the spirits.  Many years later, the tradition popped up in Scotland when adults carrying lanterns of hollowed-out turnips went door-to-door begging for cakes and fruits. By 1911, the tradition had reached North America but wasn't until 1934 that the custom became known as trick-of-treating. In the 1950s, candy companies started realizing that this trick-or-treat thing might be a huge thing for them and the individually wrapped fun-size candy was born and in 2011, the National Confectioner's Association reported $2.3 billion worth of Halloween candy was sold. Candy makers continue their evolution by making more autumnal themed candy -- think Hershey kisses wrapped in black, purple and orange-- and less Halloween themed.  Why? Because they won't go on sale November 1, like other Halloween specific candies do. 

"When it comes to the money Americans spend on the holiday, Halloween is second only to Christmas," says Kimmerle. "But Christmas is a whole season, while Halloween is just a single day. Candy makers want to reach an audience bigger than just trick-or-treaters."