Kathryn Rem: It's no secret why we love Halloween

Kathryn Rem

I contend that I’ve always looked forward to Halloween because of its dark overtones and celebration of fantasy.

My mother says it’s because of the candy.

She’s probably right.

I would still be trick-or-treating today if I could get away with it. Some of my shorter friends managed to go door-to-door in costume into their late teens, but not me. Being tall, I got hounded by homeowners once I hit age 11. “Aren’t you a little old for this?” they would ask. What could I say? I was forced into retirement.

This tale of gluttony halted may be why I remain fascinated by the paradoxical ritual of trick-or-treating.

During the decade when America was horribly wounded by terrorism, children and adults parade in public as devils, pirates and warriors. At a time when parents are more aware than ever of the need for good childhood nutrition, Halloween is the one day when junk-food controls are tossed overboard. In an era when trust of institutions and individuals has bottomed out, people don’t think twice about accepting food from strangers.

Most of that food is candy. Fully 82 percent of households with the outside lights on give mini- or bite-size candy bars, according The Halloween Holiday Profile Report by market research firm NPD Group. More than half of those candy-bar dispensers (45 percent) also hand out other kinds of candy, such as lollipops, caramels and gummies. Just 7 percent give away pre-filled treat bags.

By the way, the annual report indicates Halloween generosity is not going to change because of the faltering economy.

“We haven’t seen a decline in interest by people giving out treats. Just as many indicate their willingness to participate as last year. If anything is different, it may be in the price people are willing to pay for the candy,” said NPD Group spokeswoman Kim McLynn.

One in four survey respondents say they bake items for Halloween. Cookies are the most popular, followed by cupcakes and then pumpkin pie. While 56 percent of respondents bake Halloween cookies from scratch, 47 percent say they use refrigerated cookie dough.

Like me, 40 percent of treat givers shop for Halloween goodies within days of the holiday. I wait because I know I’ll break into them if they are in the house. Even so, about 25 percent of households run out of sweets before the night is over. How do they handle it?

Some turn off the porch light, some stop opening the front door, a few buy more candy, others start giving out different snacks and food items from the kitchen and some make a true desperation move — handing out coins. What kid doesn’t appreciate a shiny Lincoln penny?

But resorting to coins isn’t as bad as another alternative practice by some who run out of Halloween candy. On the survey, several respondents admitted to solving the problem by handing out the treats their own kids just collected.

This may work with very young children who don’t know the difference between an M&M and a grape. But for savvy trick-or-treaters who memorize their stash, such a ploy by parents could turn the sweetest princess into a raging Incredible Hulk. Just ask my mother.

Food editor Kathryn Rem can be reached at 788-1520 or