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Sweetest Day — An Obscure October Holiday

Like every month, October has its share of serious and whimsical commemorations. The month that is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month is also National Pizza Month and National Popcorn Popping Month. Likewise, there is a week for getting organized and a week for fire prevention.

Special events happen almost every day in a month that begins with Oktoberfest and ends with Halloween. The day I find most intriguing this October is the Sweetest Day which always occurs on the third Saturday of the month. This month the Sweetest Day is October 21. The name “Sweetest Day” brings up several questions.

Theda Bara

Sweet compared to what? Are all days sweet, but this one is sweeter? Is it a day for sweethearts? Is it a day to eat sweets? Is it a sort of mid-year balance after candy from Valentine’s Day and Easter is consumed but before Halloween treats? The last question may make you wonder if the Sweetest Day is simply an advertising ploy from the candy industry. Wonder no more.

Ann Pennington

Before there was a Sweetest Day, there was Candy Day established by confectioners in 1916 for the sole purpose of selling candy. Over time, the novelty must have worn off, because the first official Sweetest Day was in Cleveland, Ohio on October 10, 1921. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a committee of twelve confectioners, chaired by C. C. Hartzell planned the day during which the committee distributed over 20,000 boxes of candy to “newsboys, orphans, old folks, and the poor.” 

Movie stars Theda Bara and Ann Pennington assisted in the distribution. Bara gave away 10,000 boxes of candy to patients in Cleveland hospitals while Pennington gave 2,200 boxes of candy to newspaper boys to express gratitude for their public service.

“Gee but it’s good”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer published a special section to commemorate the new holiday, subsidized by advertisements for twelve candy companies: The Edward M. Becker Candy Company, The Euclid Candy Company, MacKenzie’s Candy Company, The Hoffman Ice Cream Company, DeKlyn’s Chocolates, Winger’s Cut Rate Drug Store, The Wm. M. Hardie Candy Company, the Kelly Peanut Company, The Max Glick Candy Company, Standard Drug Stores, and Troughton’s Sugar Jar Candies. As far as I can tell, none of these names are still in use. Candy, on the other hand, is always a treat.

In his editorial favoring the new Sweetest Day, J. L. S. urged readers to “steal enough time from the turmoil of routine affairs, to bring a bit of good cheer to those you love. A present, perhaps, and more than that add a loving word–a smile–a kiss.” The editorial concludes that readers should “Regard [the Sweetest Day’s] observance as a sacred duty–and a rare opportunity.” While I don’t agree the Sweetest Day is a sacred duty, it’s always good to spend time with loved ones.

Sweetest Day observances spread throughout the Midwest. In 1937 the National Confectioners association launched a campaign to gain the same acceptance as Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, and Valentine’s Day. That campaign failed, perhaps because the receiver was unknown to the giver. Nevertheless, Sweetest Day gained a spot on the calendar on the third Saturday of October. In the mid-1960s Hallmark began producing Sweetest Day cards. And today at least one on-line greeting card company features over a dozen Sweetest Day e-cards – some for friends and some for lovers.

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Sweetest Day Cartoon. Cleveland Plain Dealer. 1923.

Fanny Farmer Candy Day. 1922.

Theda Bara. 1921.

Ann Pennington. 1922.

Jimmy, the newsboy. Cleveland Plain Dealer. 1922

Cleveland Plain Dealer Editorial on Sweetest Day, 1922.

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.

3 thoughts on “Sweetest Day — An Obscure October Holiday

  1. Edward M. Becker was Father to Alice G. Becker Allison and Grandfather to Lois E. Allison Alexander and me, Virginia Allison Ingling. I have one original copy of The Clevelander when my Grandfather was President of the Confectioner’s Association in Cleveland, Ohio. Our Family has celebrated the holiday every year from when I was a young child back in the 1930’s as a way to remember those who were less fortunate.


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