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Halloween through the ages. A sweet history, indeed!

Happy Halloween from River Street Sweets!

Halloween started about 2,000 years ago as a celtic festival called Samhain. It was celebrated on Oct. 31st in what is now known as Ireland, France and the United Kingdom. Festival participants believed that every Halloween, the spirits of the dead returned for a visit.

The celts celebrated the holiday with bonfires and elaborate food feasts that they left out banquet style for the spirits to enjoy. Villagers would dress up in animal skin costumes to ward off malevolent spirits. This tradition later evolved into "mumming," when people would dress as ghosts, demons and other creatures and perform various antics in exchange for drinks and meals.

In England, impoverished people would participate in something similar called "souling," when they would visit wealthy homes to get 'soul cake' pastries in exchange for praying for the spirits of the  homeowner's deceased relatives. Likewise in Scotland and Ireland, a practice called "guising" involved people dressing up in costumes and going door to door to perform in exchange for fruit, nuts and coins. They would sing, recite poetry or perform tricks in exchange for their treats.

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In Britain, the holiday started as something called Guy Fawkes Night — bonfire night — after Guy Fawkes was executed for trying to destroy parliament and remove the king from power. People celebrated his demise by lighting bonfires, wearing costumes and going door to door asking for "a penny for the Guy."

A combination of all of these traditions made their way to the United States in some form or another, when colonists and later settlers and immigrants brought the various traditions with them. Trick or treating for candy didn't begin in earnest until the late 1930s, when children would go door to door to get goodies like cookies, cakes, fruit, nuts, coins and toys.

the peanuts gangIn the 1950s, candy makers realized they had an opportunity to get in on the holiday, and starting marketing their sweets each October. The animated character of helped in popularity, when creator Charles Shultz featured trick-or-treating in his cartoon strip. Disney followed, featuring Donald Duck and his three nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie enjoying trick-or-treating.

Over the next two decades, trick-or-treating grew in popularity as wrapped, factory-made candies were heavily marketed for commercialization reasons as well as safety reasons. Parents wanted to be sure children were getting food that wasn't tampered with — wrapped candies provided an element of protection.

By the time the 1970s arrived, trick-or-treaters expected these sorts of candies to be dropped into their bags each October 31st. One of the people who helped make Halloween so popular in modern history was candy tycoon Milton Hershey, considered the pioneer of the mass production of milk chocolates in the 1900s. The mass production changed milk chocolate from a luxury item enjoyed by a wealthy few to an affordable treat that average americans could afford. Hershey was so successful that he built an entire town — aptly named Hershey — around his Pennsylvania chocolate factory.

In 1917, a man by the name of H.B. Reese began working as a dairyman on the Hershey farm. Later, he worked in the factory. At home, Reese had 16 children to take care of. Interested in the candy business himself, he began experimenting with various recipes in his basement. By the mid 1920s, he had a factory of his own, were he invited the peanut butter cup in 1928.

hershy historyOther candy makers followed suit around the same time. In 1923, struggling candy maker Frank Mars launched his best selling Milky Way bar, followed by Snickers bars (named after his favorite horse) in 1930 and Three Musketeers candy bars in 1932. His son later invented the Mars bar as well as M&Ms in 1941. Other popular treats included Nestle Crunch bars and Kit-Kat bars, which were named after a London literary political group.

Here at River Street Sweets, we specialize in handmade candy instead of mass produced candy you can get anywhere. We offer all of our traditional favorites like World Famous Pralines®, Bear Claws®, Loggerheads® as well as seasonal goodies like caramel apples and pumpkin pie fudge. Stop by any of our stores to enjoy our handmade goodies!

What's your favorite Halloween treat? Leave your answer in the comments below and in the meantime, stay sweet!