Real Simple's etiquette expert on how to say no to Halloween celebrations.

 Lucas Allen

Q. Halloween is not my holiday. How do I (graciously) limit my participation?

A. We all have our favorite and not-so-favorite holidays. I have never liked Valentine’s Day. My prejudice against cupids and Be Mine candies dates back to grade school, when the event usually devolved into a popularity contest. But come next February 14, if my husband brings home a long-stemmed red rose and suggests a romantic dinner, I am not going to say no, am I?

If Halloween makes you go, “Boo, humbug,” try adopting that same detached attitude. After all, many people adore this occasion; it’s practically a national holiday for children. There are certain fundamentalist religions that don’t observe it, but if you’re not a member of one of them, you’ll look like a crank if you complain too loudly. And unless you live alone in the middle of nowhere, you probably can’t opt out entirely.

So: If your own kids plan to go up and down the street ringing door-bells, you must answer yours cheerfully when other Harrys and Hermiones come calling. If you don’t have children or yours are grown, it still behooves you to fake Halloween cheer to keep the peace with your neighbors. These strategies can help you survive the evening with grace.

Fake an interest in costumes. You don’t need to don a full SpongeBob ensemble to look like a good sport. But at least act as though you enjoy the idea of dressing up. Remember: Virtually anything can be a costume. You probably have clothes in your closet that are so old that you can go as someone from a different era. Wear them. Or a hat—any hat (extra points if it has a jaunty feather).

Be laissez-faire about the candy handout. If it gives you no pleasure to admire every pirate or fairy on the doorstep, just  leave a large bowl of fun-size chocolates out on the stoop. It is perfectly acceptable to tape to the bowl a slightly menacing warning: “One per customer—this isn’t your supper” strikes the right tone, if written in sinister kidnapper lettering. Check the supply often and refill as necessary, because the children, all hopped up on sugar, will probably ignore the note and grab handfuls. But don’t worry about it! This holiday is predicated on extortion. Try, if you can, to see this as part of the fun.

Outsource trick-or-treating. If your tykes need a chaperone while they cruise the neighborhood, try this sneaky idea: Invite a few other parents and their children to use your house as Halloween headquarters for the evening. When they ask if they can bring anything, say the price of admission is two or three bags of candy. Then play the hostess. Make a big pot of chili and serve wine before they start making the rounds. Afterward, while your pals take the kiddies from house to house, you can beg off, saying you have to do the dishes and man the front door.

And, look, it’s nine o’clock already! Time to turn out the porch light and scrub the fake blood off your vampires.

—Michelle Slatalla


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