I don’t think most of us nowadays immediately think of doughnuts and Halloween. Though many of us who grew up in the eighties and nineties have fond memories of the Dunkin Donut’s Munchkins at school birthday parties. It is not that doughnuts are not a part of fall (I see you apple cider doughnut) but in the early to mid part of the 20th century, the doughnut and Halloween went hand in hand.
Now I will admit, I can’t pinpoint the exact time that Halloween and doughnuts became a thing. Maybe if I was researching the history of doughnuts as a whole then I might have a better idea. (Don’t worry one day that will be a post). I do know that I can find articles from at least the 1930s pairing the holiday with these treats. Get ready for a lot of quotes from old articles!
A 1930s article joked “Halloween is the doughnut’s heyday” and that it had to be the most popular ringed object after wedding rings of course! The article also mentions that you could buy the doughnuts at the local bakery or make them yourself which is a sentiment that many of these articles through the decades shared.
In the 1940s, especially during the ration years of wartime, the doughnuts were touted as an easy party idea for the young and old. Many menus were given that often included simply serving the doughnuts with apple cider. A 1941 article claimed that “no Halloween party is complete without doughnuts”. Dorothy Dean agrees in her 1942 column where she says “For many years, All Hallow’s Eve has been the occasion for parties complete with ghost stories, jack-o-lanterns, cider, doughnuts, and apples”. A 1946 article makes the bold claim that “doughnuts are more a part of Halloween than pumpkins, witches, ghosts and corn shocks all lumped together”. First, I don’t know about all of that but it does highlight the popularity. Second, in case you did not grow up in rural America like I didn’t, a corn shock is a group of cornstalks cut and tied together with twine.
The 1950s still had the pairing going strong. You can start to find many more articles mentioning the fact that you could buy a “window box or two of doughnuts from your grocer’s ready-to-eat cake department” versus making them from scratch. In 1956 an article wrote that “For better, never worse, some foods have been linked with certain times of the year” and that “Halloween just would not be the same” without a doughnut. Another article of the same year agreed that the doughnut is one of the many great traditions of Halloween. One also starts to see the doughnut get some festive decorations such as icings or gumdrops arranged to look like a face which is a trend that continues into the sixties.
The sixties and seventies have very much a similar sentiment as the previous decades. In a 1967 newspaper, a columnist jokes that the holes in the doughnuts were for young witches to place on their broomsticks while I read a 1960 article about kids holding UNICEF Halloween Doughnut parties to raise money for the United Nations Children’s Fund. While in the seventies you still see many menus featuring the doughnuts as “young hobgoblins along with adults love doughnuts”. Another article claimed that a homemade doughnut is a “treat for all your Halloween guests”.
It’s not like we are completely deprived of Halloween donuts. Both Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme put out specially decorated Halloween donuts. Also, most doughnut shops, as well as grocery stores, start carrying fall-centric doughnut flavors such as pumpkin spice or, like I mentioned at the start, apple cider. So why did doughnuts stop being such a big trend for Halloween? I have no real sources to point to but I think we can make some educated guesses. First taste changes. We are much more likely to buy or make cupcakes, cakes, cookies, or brownies as a sweet treat for a Halloween party. Most of our grocery stores have perfectly placed displays full of appropriately decorated treats to tempt us while we shop. Second, as a society, we have moved away from taking or receiving homemade items from people that we do not know as the coveted “Trick or Treat”. Whether through urban myths or real-life events, we are much more cautious of these handouts. Bags of fun-size candy bars reign supreme now.
So next time you are planning a retro theme Halloween party give the doughnut a chance. Also, do you remember doughnuts fondly as a child or remember making doughnuts for Halloween? Does anybody wish that doughnuts and Halloween would become a big thing again? Let me know in the comments.
Anderson, Beverly. “Bev’s Bits and Bites: Halloween Treats”. Lawrence Daily Journal. October 27, 1967.
Anderson, Carol. “Treats for Halloween Tricksters”. The Free Lance Star. October 23, 1974.
Barrett, Amy. “Season for Doughnuts Opens on Halloween, October 30th”. The Youngstown Daily Vindicator. October 17, 1933.
Dean, Dorothy. “Doughnuts Always Integral Part of Halloween”. The Spokesman-Review. October 27, 1941.
Dean, Dorothy. “Halloween is Occasion for Gala Party”. The Spokesman Review. October 28, 1942.
“Doughnuts Linked with Halloween Time”. Register-Guard. October 31, 1956.
“Donut stunts can be used for Halloween Party Games”. The Telegraph Herald. October 27, 1950.
“Doughnuts Tasty with Apple Sauce on Halloween”. Register-Guard. October 25, 1955.
“Doughnuts, Triangles Treat for Halloween”. The Press Courir. October 24, 1979.
Gibson, Josephine. “Make Goblins of Doughnuts for Halloween Fun”. Pittsburgh Press. October 28, 1952.
“Halloween Party Favorites This Year, As Always are Homemade Donuts of Course”. Oxnard Press-Courier. October 30, 1942.
Maddox, Gaynor. “Halloween’s Time Again for Doughnuts, UNICEF Drive”. The Altus Times-Democrat. October 27, 1960.
March, Lilly. “As Seen by Ike”. Reading Eagle. October 14, 1946.
Marshall, Anne. “Baked Doughnuts for Halloween”. The Leader-Mail. October 19, 1965.
“New Donut Games Add Zest to Party”. Schenectady Gazette. October 17, 1941.
“Raised Doughnuts Halloween Tradition”. Lewiston Morning Tribune. October 26, 1956.
8 thoughts on “Halloween and the Doughnut”
Wow I didn’t know this! This is a great post, thanks. I didn’t know doughnuts were a thing for Halloween back in the day! I always associated Halloween with cupcakes. Going to school in the 90’s, we’d always have cupcakes for Halloween made by people’s moms. I agree with what you said: it’s likely because we had access to baking decorations like green and orange frosting, lots of candies and even cupcake papers printed with Halloween stuff. 🙂
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Wow thank you!! I remember doughnuts being a significant part of our family Halloween tradition. I’m 51. My wife had convinced me that I was remembering my childhood wrong. That doughnuts at Halloween was NEVER a thing and either I was making it all up or my family was weird. After decades of this, I finally looked it up on Google. Your article has restored my confidence. By the way regardless of what my wife said, we always have cake doughnuts with frosting for Halloween. So my boys will carry on the memories into the next generation.
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This made my day! Thank you for telling me this story. I am glad that you have kept the doughnut tradition alive with your boys.
I just ate a leftover Halloween donut at my bosses house. Her family has had a Halloween donut making party since the family can remember. Their oldest sibling is 70. They have been using their aunt’s same recipe forever. They even have printed aprons. Apparently there was a spiritual reason for the aunt… not sure what is was. BTW, the donut was delicious. We are in the Great Lakes region.
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That is so cool! Thank you for telling me this story. Lol, I bet that donut was delicious. You can rarely go wrong with a homemade donut.