“The night of Halloween, after trick-or-treating, my sister and I would go through all of our candy and we could select some to keep, and then the rest of the candy we put into a bag. Overnight the Good Witch would come and take our candy and leave a toy in return.”
AH is a 21 year-old college student from Houston, Texas. She grew up in what is sometimes described as an ‘ingredient household,’ a family with very little junk food or sweets in the house.
“I think it was like a way of being like, you know, ‘Don’t eat candy. Instead you can have a toy. Don’t eat junk food. You have a choice.’ It was a reinforced way of keeping junk food out of our household,” AH explained.
“I remember being frustrated with the small amount of time I had to pick the candy I wanted to keep. I felt rushed by the whole process. It was hard to savor the joy of Halloween knowing I could be scolded for eating the little candy I was allowed to keep.”
This was a Halloween tradition from AH’s earliest memory of Halloween to when she was about 10 or 12 years old. By the time she had stopped believing in the Good Witch, her parents continued to take the candy and give her money instead.
AH’s mom first learned about the trick from a parenting magazine.
At surface level, the legend of the Good Witch is a harmless children’s legend aimed to reduce excessive candy consumption around Halloween. The narrative co-opts the existing framework of witches, a legendary being that one already assumes to be around on Halloween, as well as the framework of the tooth fairy legend, another children’s legend that involves taking something overnight and replacing it with a reward.
However, AH notes that the immediate taking away of candy contributed toward negative habits and views regarding ‘unhealthy’ food.
“Because it was so limited and something that we weren’t supposed to eat, I kind of developed this bad habit of, when it was around, I was going to eat it all,” AH explained. “And it was a way of resisting the Good Witch. You didn’t have to give away as much candy if you could eat it all in one sitting.”
This habit of binge eating is something AH has struggled with into her college years. The legend of the Good Witch, along with other family influences, created an impression of scarcity surrounding junk food and sweets that is difficult to unlearn.
“Oh, this rare thing, I gotta indulge myself. And eat it all up and enjoy it. Not necessarily enjoy it though. I just gotta eat it before it disappears one way or another,” AH explained. “There’s this fear, for whatever reason, of having things be taken away.”
This legend is interesting in the context of Halloween, a day that includes a lot of ritual inversion, the practice of inverting social roles or structures, especially when these are very strict. On Halloween, children dress up as something they are not. They eat the candy they are not allowed at other times of the year. There is a proximity to and spectacle in death, which is otherwise hidden from children.
Thus it is interesting that AH’s family allowed some participation in this inversion — the collection of candy — and then further inverted it, by taking the candy away. One is left to wonder if the candy consumption that is so dramatically avoided by the Good Witch legend may have actually been good for AH and her siblings, as it may have allowed them to experience indulgence — and maybe a belly ache, too — in order to develop a healthy relationship with food.
“It was never something that was okay in moderation. It was hardly okay at all. I don’t think that has any good impact. I think that teaching something like that just opens up the opportunity for unhealthy habits to develop in the future,” AH explained. “I definitely think with the Good Witch, the whole ‘you get to pick your stuff and then the rest is gone’ just really reinforced habits of binge eating.”