Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Postcard from Candy Land

We continue to eat away, figuratively and literally, at our stash of Easter candy. From 2010, that is. A couple of days ago, I had a handful of year-old jelly beans and Grace had some Halloween candy, as well as a piece of Christmas Bubble Tape that I am embarrassed to say originates from Christmas 2009. One of the positive things about moving every year is that it’s easy to match up memories of holiday candy to a specific house, which can then be correlated to the year we celebrated that holiday in that particular house. The other benefit of moving every year, if you’re wondering, is that there’s never a need to do any extensive cleaning, as I figure we’ll be leaving all of the dirt behind soon enough.

As I expressed concern to Mike over the 17-month old gum Grace was eager to discover, he reassured me that there is likely nothing perishable about gum and that it probably has an infinite shelf life, which is always encouraging when your kids are eating candy produced in the previous decade. Perhaps of greater concern should be my inability to throw all this crap in the garbage. Sometimes I wonder if I lived through the Depression in an alternate life.

All these piles of candy (which are definitely excessive when you hear yourself saying to your kids on a regular basis, “Please, can you guys eat some Halloween/Christmas/Easter candy today, so as to dwindle the mountainous pile?!?!) got me thinking. Candy-mania season begins with Halloween – which means the promotion and sales probably starts around Labor Day - and ends with Easter, which is a whopping seven-month season of non-stop candy consumption. Inadvertently, thanks to a 17-month-old piece of gum, I may have just discovered the source of America’s childhood obesity problem. The holidays.

But not only did I think, I went so far as to do some research on the evolution of our holidays into candy-dictated events. Of course, I use the term “research,” consisting of a couple Google searches and some pithy articles published in non-scientific journals, loosely. And, for the sake of ease, I only used articles that already supported my previously held opinions and beliefs, which would make the writing of this blog much easier and quicker.

Though Halloween begins the free-for-all of candy collection, consumption and, ultimately, revulsion, Halloween was late to hop on the candy bandwagon. While Halloween has been around for centuries, the marriage of Halloween and giant quantities of candy is only 30-some-odd years old. Originally, Halloween was the day that people believed the ghosts of the dead could return to the earth. People dressed in “costumes” (animal skins, skulls, etc) to frighten away the spirits. As the holiday evolved, Halloween eventually morphed into general hijinks and debauchery involving pranks by children and, later, into the mother of all candy holidays. My research revealed that Americans spent $2 billion on candy during the 2010 Halloween season and that an average jack-o-lantern bucket holds 250 pieces of candy, equaling 9000 calories. The statistics associated with Halloween and candy was far more frightening than Halloween itself, so I shifted to research on Christmas candy.

Christmas and goodies have been buddied up for years. Boxes of chocolates as gifts were firmly established by 1900, and the advent calendar – the version with a piece of chocolate per day to count down the month of December – dates back to the 1950s. The advent calendar begins the Christmas consumption season, which also consists of ubiquitous baked goods laden with fat, sugar, more fat and more sugar, and culminates with the Christmas stocking, a giant sock chock full o’ candy and tchotchkes. We even decorate the inanimate tree with candy, and the candy cane dates back almost 350 years. Besides learning a little about the history of holiday candy, I have also discovered that some of these holiday traditions we are imbued with seem just a little odd when thought of out of context.

Thankfully, there’s a brief reprieve from candy-ingestion after Christmas, while we make – and subsequently break – our New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get in shape after all that holiday bingeing we partook in. There’s also the hope – in our house, at least, since I can’t throw the leftovers away - to eradicate the candy stockpile before Valentine’s Day, which is far less about love and more about sassy candy hearts that often say inappropriate things to the children for whom they are marketed. And so Valentine’s Day replenishes the pile anew, while the store shelves are already filling with the next major holiday’s goods.

If Halloween is the mother of all candy holidays, Easter is the grandpappy of them all. Candy peddling at Easter borders on the irresponsible. Not only does the freakishly large rabbit bring the Easter basket, full of chocolate and sugar and marshmallow delicacies, there are also the Easter eggs, full of smaller versions of the same candies. Of course, there are the “special” candies – the likes of Peeps and some Cadbury products, which Mike swears makes Easter candy the best of the holiday candies- that make Easter barely second to Halloween in amounts of dollars spent and calories consumed.

Unrelated, but completely worth mentioning…Speaking of Peeps, I discovered there’s an entire Peeps-based subculture, involving Peeps-related science experiments, a movie release titled Lord of the Peeps (all characters are appropriately-clad Peeps) and something I am nervous to further explore, Peeps erotica.

Finally, Easter passes and the candy manufacturers give us a break for the summer, when we have to face the sad reality of bathing suit season after the eight billion pounds of candy we consumed since last year. Quick math: 8 billion pounds of candy consumed divided by 300 million people in the U.S. equals 25 pounds of candy, per person, per year. Yikes. Suddenly, I feel depressed. Thank goodness there’s so much chocolate on hand to soothe the nerves.