October's Original Candy Holiday? 'Candy Day'

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This image of film star Theda Bara giving candy to orphan girls was first published in The Cleveland Press on October 5, 1921.



Editor's note: This is the second post in a pre-Halloween series about candy. To read the first post, on the origins of trick-or-treating, click here.

Sometime in 1916, the candy people looked at their empty fall calendars and decided what America needed was a new candy holiday, a day to celebrate all things candy, to eat candy with extra enthusiasm, and not coincidentally, to give candy sales a boost in advance of the Christmas holiday season. But the holiday wasn't Halloween. The word went forth from the National Confectioners Association: The second Saturday of October would henceforth be known as "Candy Day."

Candy Day, the day when every man, woman, and child would be urged to forget minor affairs and see to it that someone was sent a box or bag or bucket of candy.

In anticipation of October 14, 1916, the candy trade journals beat the drum to encourage local candy shops to feature Candy Day promotions. Sample signs were published, as well as "articles" that could be sent to local papers extolling the virtues of Candy Day and candy eating:

The true "Candy Day" spirit is apart from the idea of just stimulating a greater consumption of candy. This will naturally follow a national educational campaign exploiting the real food value of candy—pure candy. The "Spirit of Candy Day" proper may be interpreted as a spirit of good will, appreciation and good fellowship.

The sentiments were noble. But behind the scenes, the intentions were no secret:

The only motive of the [NCA Executive Committee] is to aid every Manufacturer, Jobber and Retailer in increasing his profits through increased sales on "Candy Day." ...

It's simply asking you if you want to make some extra money, and if you do, you are requested to go ahead and push this "Candy Day" idea.

(All quotations from "Nation Wide Candy Day," Candy and Ice Cream July 1916, p. 34-35)

There's no getting around it. Candy Day was an entirely invented holiday with one purpose: to sell candy.

Once the distracting business of World War I was safely concluded, Candy Day became a major cause among many leading candy manufacturers and retailers. Candy Day was promoted with varying degrees of success in 1919 and 1920, and slowly caught on in some cities. But it wasn't until 1921 that someone figured out how to give Candy Day some real traction. In that year, the organizers in Cleveland had a brilliant idea: to launch the day with a high-profile giveaway of candy to orphans and old ladies.

Celebrities were recruited and newspapers alerted to the stunt. It was a savvy maneuver to outflank the public's emerging suspicion of being manipulated by self-serving business interests. Candy Day was re-christened "Sweetest Day," and the promotional emphasis shifted from flat-out candy sales to the finer feelings of romance, gratitude, and generosity.

Presented by

Samira Kawash researches and writes on the cultural and social history of candy in 20th-century America. She is professor emerita, Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ). She blogs on candy history and opinion at CandyProfessor.com.

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