An ancient tradition, Halloween is a time of year for some to have a new beginning, for some to test their scare tolerance, for some to dress up and have fun, and is much to a dentist’s chagrin, an occasion causing an influx of cavity checks. It dates back centuries and adapted over time with newer traditions, doctrines, and activities. But how do Canadians enjoy Halloween?  This is our guide to Halloween history, candy consumption, favourites, vintage offerings, for a safe and sane Halloween in Canada.


Halloween History

Halloween is an ancient and spiritual holiday that we continue to honour and celebrate today. The first celebrations date all the way back to the Celtic times with their festival of Samhain 2000 years ago. It was the eve of their New Year, November 1, and a way to ward off evil spirits before heading into a fresh year.

halloween pumpkins
halloween pumpkins

All Hallows’ Eve is another celebration where Halloween is derived from. It falls on October 31st and is the day prior to All Hallow’s day. In Christian calendars, it is celebrated as All Saints day with a vigil being held.


The Canadian Traditions

Trick-or-Treating for Halloween in Canada

Halloween has been a favourite time of year in North America for decades. Some of the traditions began in the USA and Canada and were adapted to suit their people. Halloween itself is a ceremonial and religious time of year for the pagan faiths including Wicca, but many others in the general public enjoy the spookiness and other fun experiences that Halloween brings out. One of those traditions is trick-or-treating.

Trick-or-treating, the act of going door-to-door to collect candy and treats from neighbours and local homes began in the 1930’s. Kids would dress in costume, bag in hand, ring the doorbell, and utter “trick or treat!” to receive an offering. It was a way to ask for handouts during this time of year, along with a prayer, in disguise to fend off evil spirits of the night.

But with this middle ages tradition of dressing up and the newer act of requesting treats, do kids know the origin of the popular phrase?

Trick or Treat
Trick or Treating is a tradition for Halloween in Canada

My father tested the theory that most say it not really knowing the significance. A kid came to the door this one year and said “Trick or Treat?” to him when he answered the door. To him, he replied – “Okay, I will take the trick.”

Confusion sets in.

Bewildered, the child looked at his dad and says with uncertainty “Dad, he wants the trick! What do I do!?” Laughter ensued, with my father handing him a little bag of chocolate bars.

The trick element of the phrase is literally an empty threat to pull a fast one on the adult. Some of the tricks of the past that have been documented have included toilet-papering of trees, eggs thrown on windows and garages, and that type of thing. Though inconsiderate and uncalled for as a response to not receiving a piece of candy, this is the history of this seasonal utterance.

Halloween House
Halloween House

What’s with the Pumpkins and Jack O’ Lanterns?

Pumpkins are quite plentiful at this time of year. I mean some pumpkin patches boast numbers in the thousands. I just recently went to one of the largest in all of Toronto with more than 20,000 in their 2017 harvest.

The Jack O’Lantern, a meticulously carved pumpkin or turnip that originally was of a scary face, started back in the 1660’s. It is historically rooted to English folklore with the name derived from will ‘o the whisp (aka foolish fire).

That being said, the carving and creation of Jack O’Lanterns is believed to have begun in Ireland. (Makes sense with his name doesn’t it!?). They were originally created to represent the good supernatural beings and spirits of the evening and ward off the evil.


carved pumpkins
carved pumpkins

Nowadays the traditional Jack O’Lanterns have become a pumpkin carving phenomenon with contests being held across the country displaying the incredible artistic talents with intricately carved designs, motifs, and scary faces. I have seen some of the most unique carved pumpkins of late that truly do show off the creative talents and imaginations of Canadian families. The pumpkin designs are truly a highlight of Halloween in Canada.

Some of the designs recently seen include blue-painted pumpkins for Cinderella pumpkin coaches, white painted pumpkins painted like members of KISS, Star Wars carvings, Disney carvings, and more. What would you choose?

carved pumpkins
carved pumpkins

Fun Fact: 30,128 (the most ever!) were lit simultaneously in the Boston Common in the heart of Boston Massachusetts! That would have been such an incredible masterpiece of lights.

Halloween Candy

Now, I am not condoning an increase in sugar intake or advising you to allow your children to gorge on sweets. But the reality is, children will collect bags and/or pillowcases of treats from neighbourhood homes, malls, parties, schools, and generous relatives. So where did this tradition come from, how has it evolved over the years, and exactly what are the favourites of Canadians and what is just a waste of money? Plus, do you know the candy that the majority of Canadian parents toss, causing large amounts of wasted food?

Traditionally neighbourhood homes would give candy, baked goods, fruit, nuts, coins, toys and other treats to children as an offering to ward of spirits and keep them away. Throughout the decades the original favourites have changed due to safety concerns with decreases in offerings to less personal stuff. It is sad in some ways as families and neighbours would pool together for some of the most exciting and elaborate celebrations you could experience.

trick or treat
trick or treat

 Canada’s 21st Century Favourites

1 – Chocolate Bars

So I am not talking about the bite-size here. Canadian children always feel so spoilt when they receive a full-size bar in response to their trick-or-treat chant. The bite-size ones are also very popular, but children who get these big treats really do feel like they won the Halloween candy lottery. I remember receiving a full-size Kit-Kat as a child and vividly recall how my parents rationed that bar over a span of 3 days…yep, I was never allowed a full bar in one sitting…

The 3 chocolate bars that kids love the most:

Reese Butter Cups – these are really wanted and more elusive with the increase in peanut allergies nowadays. If kids receive these from homes who cross the invisible line of the peanut taboo, the excitement just cannot be hidden on the faces of those without the allergy.

Mars Bars- These are another popular bar as the caramel and malt are such a delicious combination. A classic treat similar to the USA’s Milky Way, the Mars Bar definitely is a welcomed treat received.

Hershey’s Kisses – the mini-packs of these delightful treats that are bite-size pieces of heaven are a favourite for kids and parents as they are small rations and not too much sugar.

Halloween candy
Halloween candy

Cans of Pop

This is a very popular Halloween prize to children trick-or-treating. You may be surprised by this, but from my candy-collecting days, I used to love getting the pop as it was a drink midway through my 5-6 blocks of walking in the night air. Water is always better than pop, but sometimes it is a very welcoming offering.

Cans of pop
Cans of pop

Bags of Chips

There are mixed feelings from kids about bags of chips. Some feel they take up too much space in their Halloween bags, and others love them as to them they are a more posh offering. I remember receiving several bags and my parents would keep them for a special occasion.

bag of chips
bag of chips

Miscellaneous Candy Favourites

Canadian kids do follow suit with many of the traditional American candy brands and flavours. These are some of the candy that children enjoy on top of the chocolate, pop, and chips for Halloween in Canada.

Skittles – I don’t really know why these are so popular as they were never my favourite, but kids LOVE these colourful bursts of sweetness.

Nerds – Perhaps the Willy Wonka aspect of this classic treat is what gets kids really excited about getting boxes of these guys in multiple flavours.

Gobstoppers – These guys are not my favourite either. And although kids love these jaw-breakers, parents don’t as they do cause some dental work afterward. If you do give these out to Canadian kids, they will be well-received by the kids, but they will for the most part end up failing the candy inspection afterward.




The Vintage Favourites

I went trick-or-treating in the 1980’s. A time of teased hair, leg warmers, Duran Duran, and Strawberry Shortcake dolls. The innocence of childhood was still there hanging on by a thread with some of the traditional Halloween offerings still being shelled out in some of the quainter villages and neighbourhoods. I had some of the most incredible years of receiving homemade jam, freshly baked brownies, homemade chocolate truffles, delicious orchard-picked apples, and hand-knitted pumpkin finger puppets. These were also the days of collecting money for UNICEF. A charity that would go hand in hand with Halloween and played up in many a silver screen comedy as Bewitched, Ozzie and Harriet, and the Brady Bunch.

These days are sadly long gone.

Some of the vintage candy brought out at Halloween has also been phased out over the decades. Here are some that you may still find in more tight-knit neighbourhoods or from traditionalist homes that want to keep these older offerings still in circulation.

halloween handmade truffles
Halloween handmade truffles

Candy Corn

This candy wasn’t my favourite as a rule, but back in the day when I went out dressed in my favourite witch costume, I would receive hand made baggies of these guys all the time. They are sugary cones that do satisfy anyone wanting that sugar fix and are traditionally in the Halloween colours. As these candies usually are purchased in bulk and made into little treat bundles, few give them out as parents prefer sealed candy nowadays due to the terrible incidents of laced treats, hidden blades, hidden needles, and other horrific things.

candy corn
candy corn

Halloween Kisses

These toffee-like candies in Halloween wrappers are definitely a vintage offering that I feel should be eliminated from the candy shops. I am not a fan of toffee and these were always hard as a rock and totally not welcome in my Halloween bag. They were popular in homes thanks to Halloween television specials and references as well as being a cheaper alternative for homes who want to give out candy, but cannot afford the higher-end candy.

halloween kisses
Halloween kisses – vintage candy given out for Halloween in Canada
Credit: CBC

Bobbing for Apples

Some of the warmer Halloween nights houses in my neighbourhood would allow kids to bob for apples. Not a very sanitary practice for today’s standards, bobbing for apples involved a bucket of water, Macintosh apples, and trying to grab one in your mouth with your arms behind your back. I used to love this when growing up and would eat the captured apple on my walks between houses.

Bobbing for apples
Bobbing for apples was popular for Halloween in Canada


Peanuts still in their shells. Yep, those. I used to recall these older ladies throwing handfuls in my bag. With the increase in peanut allergies nowadays, this has been phased out significantly, but quite frankly, that is a good thing. Not many kids really like those old fashioned nuts and they are messy.


The Candies Canadians Don’t Like

So as a consumer, do you really want to buy stuff that the majority of kids or their parents will just throw away? That spells wasted money and food. If you truly wish to give treats to your neighbourhood kids, perhaps consider avoiding these items:

1 – Peanuts – as mentioned above, they really aren’t welcome treats and many parents will toss them due to the allergy epidemic.

2 – Halloween Kisses – They are vintage and they are cheap to buy, but really folks, kids don’t like them. They are hard and are not the most flavourful candies. Sugar hits should not be created with these bon bons that could seriously break a window.

3- Rockets – these sugar-filled discs that resemble mini Certs are just sugar. That’s it! Totally terrible for your children’s teeth – worse than some of the others, plus their wrappers are flimsy, allowing for easy opening to do bad things.

4 – Lollipops – Maybe it is just me, but I find lollipops repulsive. They are pure sugar, you don’t know where the sticks have been, and they change the colour of your tongue. And the ones with the gum in the middle are just gross. Parents tend to agree and toss those away.

5-  Raisins – Many homes have opted to give these out in hopes for a healthier choice, but reality is that the boxes are easily opened, allowing for trouble. Just don’t. If you want to give out raisins, get the sealed packs not the SunMaid boxes.

6 – Tootsie Rolls – These are toffee and can get very hard. My parents never let me eat these due to their lack of quality.

7 – Popeye Cigarettes – yes these are candy, but why encourage a bad habit later on in life? I don’t think I would like my child pretending to smoke a cigarette, would you?

8 – Fruit, opened baggies, or handmade items – the days of baked goods, pies, handmade Halloween treat bags of bulk barn candy, and fresh apples and oranges are gone. With the demonic people who have poisoned, drugged, or laced offerings with harmful items, parents simply do not trust anyone anymore. It is sad, but a reality that we must face.

Halloween in Canada Safety Measures

Growing up in Canada and enjoying the tradition in my childhood, street smarts is developed and you know what to avoid and how to deal with incidents. Here are ways Canada, and especially Toronto in my examples, have taken safety measures for children to enjoy a fun evening tradition.

1 – Pumpkin Patrol – this sponsored service brings out hundreds of orange marked vans that patrol the neighbourhood streets as a safe refuge for scared or lost children, or those who have witnessed an unfortunate incident as bullying.

2 – Avoid the older Teenagers – The younger children accompanied by their parents usually go out in the earlier hours of the night. When I was younger we would go 6-8:30 pm. Nowadays parents begin around 5 pm as the older kids stay out until close to 9 pm. The teens tend to do a trick called “Trick or Thiefing” which involves scaring younger children forcing them to drop their bags and run away. Avoid interaction with these teens. You can usually spot those who would do this trick as rarely do they make an effort to dress up in costume. They simply want a freebie.

3 – Choose a neighbourhood near schools – these neighbourhoods for the most part are safe bets for lots of kids, lots of homes participating, and lots of people to avoid scary incidents

4 – Choose a shopping Mall or Trunk or Treating – if you live in an unsafe neighbourhood or one with not too many houses participating, consider going to a mall. Many shops give out candy to children in costume. Trunk or Treating has been a newer tradition for this same reason. Parking lots in malls with cars congregating with treats in a public place to feel safer.

5- Inspect all Candy and Throw Out Anything Suspicious or Opened – When you get home, dump all the offerings of candy, treats, toys etc. on a table or the floor and inspect each item. Throw out everything that has an opened wrapper, or that looks suspicious for whatever reason. This is the best way to avoid any type of vicious behaviour. There is nothing sadder than hearing on the radio the next day of incidents where children have received dangerous items as it will decrease interest even more.

6 – Go Trick-or-Treating in Groups – if you are not accompanied by your parents or an adult, make sure you go in a group. There is always safety in numbers.

Ways to Have Fun for Halloween in Canada

Canada celebrates Halloween not only with the traditional pumpkins and giving out of candy. We also enjoy parties, zombie walks, haunted houses, parades, and lots of other fun things. For a great list of things to do, check out our guide of scary attractions, hay rides, harvests, farms, and more.

Canada has adopted quite a few of the USA’s Halloween traditions and habits. We do celebrate the harvest and this scary time of year honouring the historical significance, coupled with the commercialization imposed by retailers and other influences. In the end, kids enjoy a fun evening mingling with friends and neighbours, adults can dress up and enjoy a fun themed evening of spider cupcakes, skeleton cakes, and ghoulish stories, and the city can light up with original pumpkins, lanterns, mazes, and more. Truly a fun and whimsical time of year.

Celebrating Halloween in Canada
Celebrating Halloween in Canada


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