The holidays

'Tis the season when the country's many dollar stores are flooded with cheap wrapping paper, cheap novelty gifts, and above all, cheap sugary treats. Garish, distorted images of Santa and his minions abound, alongside more generic red-and-green confections. But which off-brand product offers the most bang for the holiday buck? Once again, the brave gourmets of The Onion A.V. Club ventured forth to investigate the most budget-friendly food they could find—this time, with a seasonal twist.

Balls

The Frankford Candy & Chocolate Co.'s "Balls" offer the traditional frustration of trying to unwrap foil-wrapped confections without gouging them, plus the added and equally traditional frustration of finding streaks of waxy white blooming on the unwrapped chocolate. But who really wants to eat them anyway? The main reason to buy these stocking stuffers is their unfortunate name.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Cocoa (Processed With Alkali)."

Seasonally appropriate? Nothing says holiday fun like these seven words: "Would you like to taste my balls?"

Holiday Marshmallows

Why settle for plain marshmallows when you can have Holiday Marshmallows, cut into festive shapes and stained with pale food coloring? They turn cocoa a sickly shade of reddish-green, they have the consistency of Styrofoam packing peanuts, and for some reason they taste faintly of lemon. But anyone who needs a tiny snowman to complete a Christmas diorama could do a lot worse.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Solubilized (Milk) Protein," though given the whitish powder dusted over the marshmallows, the most frightening words on the package may be "Product of Colombia."

Seasonally appropriate? According to the bag text, these are good for "Baking, Crafting, Snacking." Only one of those is actually true.

Chocolate Orange Sticks

A lot of the charm of Chocolate Orange Sticks is the box art, which shows Santa either admiring his elves' doll-making craftsmanship, or shaking down a small child for cookies. Meanwhile, the hard little oval-shaped biscuits within are crunchy and tangy, with chunks of indigestible nuts. The big guy should love 'em.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Raising agent: sodium bicarbonate E500."

Seasonally appropriate? Sure. Mix them with the balls and the marshmallows and make some Holiday S'mores.

Brach's Real Milk Chocolate Santas
Palmer Peanut Butter Filled Santas

Parents who can't afford the latest high-tech toys or in-demand video-game system might try blunting their kids' holiday frustration with some cathartic revenge: For a mere dollar, kids can bite off Santa's head half a dozen times on Christmas Day. Palmer's splintery peanut-butter-filled Santas stand out for the longsuffering, pleading expression on both the wrapping and the candy, while Brach's selection of two-inch Kris Kringles includes both an alarmed-looking Santa holding up his hands in a "Wait, don't eat me!" pose, and a Santa with his eyes closed and his hands behind his back, as if he's awaiting a firing squad.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Soya lecithin."

Seasonally appropriate? Indubitably. What could be more Christmasy than Santa? (Admittedly, serious religious types might prefer to remember the true reason for the season by biting the heads off of alarmed chocolate Christs.)

Solid Milk Chocolate Pops

World's-brand Santa chocolate lollipops (five for a dollar) are foil-wrapped with images of cartoony, gift-bearing Santas, but when unwrapped, they look like generic milk-chocolate paddles, or possibly plastic Fudgesicles. They therefore offer no Santa-devouring catharsis, though they do make things amusingly literal for those who feel Santa's got a serious stick up his ass about the whole naughty/nice thing.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Cocoa mass."

Seasonally appropriate? In the package? Very Christmasy. When opened? Good for any cheap-chocolate-appropriate holiday.

Santa's Gummy Gifts: Candy Pops

Not quite lollipops, not quite Gummi candy... This special Santa-related treat was seemingly designed both to frighten and queasify small children. First, there's the packaging, which depicts a snowman holding a stick bearing–the head of another snowman! And if ritualistic snowmanicide isn't enough, there's the piece of plastic used to cover the Santa lolly: Remove the candy, and all that's left is a Mr. Claus with eyes so dilated he looks either homicidal or completely wasted.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Glucose syrup."

Seasonally appropriate? Not in the least. Halloween is for sickening and scaring children, not Christmas. Get it straight, Chinese company that manufactured these lollies for sole U.S. distribution by R.L. Albert & Son!

Holiday Drumbo Pop

It's a drum! It's a whistle! It's a lollipop with enough sugar to keep kids running around the house making noise all day! Surely the most misguided candy concept ever, this multipurpose noisemaker makes a shrill, annoying rattle when spun in the hands, so that the tiny red plastic mittens clatter against the plastic drumhead. The handle contains a shrill, annoying whistle and a nauseatingly sweet strawberry-sugar cylinder. Even the narrow-eyed, open-mouthed Santa on the drumhead looks like he's screaming for the pop's new owner to knock it off, already.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Buffered lactic acid."

Seasonally appropriate? This toy can only be properly enjoyed during the holidays, when parents and relatives are striving to stay in the joyous seasonal spirit and not beat their children to death with a mallet. Enjoy the Drumbo Pop while it lasts—a hungover adult will probably take it away forever on New Year's Day.

Santa's Book Of 8 Candy Rolls

Apart from sounding like a holiday-themed J.K. Rowling knockoff, Santa's Book of 8 Candy Rolls is the most mysterious of the dollar candies. On the cover of the locked book (well, there's a drawing of a lock, anyway), Santa is having an awesome multicultural winter-sports time, frolicking with kids in the snow and wearing John Lennon-esque shades. (One child even holds a hockey stick that says "hockey" on it, in case it isn't obvious what he's playing.) But all of this party atmosphere just distracts from the question "What the hell is a 'candy roll?'" The it-could-be-anything excitement bursts when the "lock" is cracked to reveal that candy rolls are, in fact, fruit-flavored Royal Rolls–a.k.a. LifeSavers without holes.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "FD&C Red No. 40."

Seasonally appropriate? Not really, but it knows it and doesn't care: Kids will eat anything made of sugar. (Admittedly, hard-candy circles come somewhere near the bottom of the list, just before plain sugar granules.)

Marshmallow Peeps Cutouts: Holiday Cookie Flavored

Peeps are called Peeps for a reason, or so it would seem: They're marshmallow gunk shaped like little birds, and birds make peeping noises. But the Just Born candy company (founded by Russian immigrant Sam Born in 1923) has expanded the line so far that there's even a "not just for breakfast any more"-style slogan to accompany the various non-avian Peeps. Ready? "Peeps. Always in season." For this holiday, Peeps take the shape of gingerbread men and assume a noncommittal flavor called simply "holiday cookie."

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Soy protein."

Seasonally appropriate? Not really. Peeps still taste like that other Jesus-related holiday, Easter. As everyone knows, the first Christians drank eggnog when Christ was born, and ate marshmallow birds when He died: So it was written, so it shall be done. In spite of the seasonal incongruity, though, these Peeps are quite delicious.

Marshmallow Peeps Snowmen

Cookies and birds aren't the only shapes Peeps can assume. Remember how sad it was when Frosty the Snowman melted in that one animated holiday special? And how uplifting it was when he magically came back to life? With Marshmallow Peeps Snowmen, kids can reenact that scenario at home, except for the coming-back-to-life part. Peeps Snowmen are white marshmallowy things that look half-melted already: Their poorly rendered sugar faces are drifting up onto their hats, and their festive, uh, blobby things–bow-ties, presumably?–are drifting off onto what passes for their arms.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Dextrin."

Seasonally appropriate? Actually, Peeps cognoscenti insist that they're best when stale enough to be crunchy on the outside. So apparently the snowmen and "holiday cookies" really should be saved for Easter, whereas Halloween Peeps should be getting ripe about now.

SpongeBob SquarePants Candy-filled Star

Proving that there's no synergistic avenue that the tart, compressed-sugar candy industry won't pursue, here comes the SpongeBob SquarePants Candy-filled Star–a five-pointed cardboard box packed with hard, tiny SpongeBobs, each so disfigured by the process of scraping up against each other that they bear more resemblance to Mars Attacks! Martians than to everyone's favorite absorbent, porous hero.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Malic Acid."

Seasonally appropriate? SpongeBob is wearing a little Santa hat on the front of the box. Otherwise, no.

Fluffy Stuff Snow Balls Cotton Candy: Strawberry

In another effort to increase the year-round marketability of what has traditionally been a seasonal item, Charms has introduced Fluffy Stuff Snow Balls, which is nothing more than some white cotton candy dressed up in a wintertime bag. Though the packaging depicts actual snowballs, within lies a single plain lump. Strangely, the Fluffy Stuff mascots look like cute science-class-cartoon germs. Mmmm, a tasty germ with a Santa hat.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Artificial flavor."

Seasonally appropriate? It does represent snow, which is generally associated with winter. But Fluffy Stuff shouldn't get away with this many levels of comparison: Cotton candy is candy that looks like cotton. Fluffy Stuff is candy that looks like cotton that's in turn unsuccessfully representing itself as a snowball. If holiday-treat referees existed, they'd certainly call an over-analogy foul.

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