Halloween isn’t for everyone. Here’s how to handle the holiday if it’s not your favorite—or if you predict some unwelcome behaviors.
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It's no wonder that All Hallows' Eve poses a number of etiquette challenges: It's a holiday when overstimulated children dressed like zombies and other assorted menaces run from house to house in the dark demanding fistfuls of candy. Some people opt out of the festivities for religious or cultural reasons, but if you're willing to participate by handing out sweets at the door even if Halloween isn't your holiday of choice, you can avoid some common pitfalls by planning ahead (and maybe finding some other things to do on Halloween).

If Halloween makes you go, "Boo, humbug," try adopting a neutral, 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 doorbells, 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. Here's how to handle awkward Halloween etiquette snafus and scenarios with aplomb.

Halloween etiquette - how to handle trick-or-treating, hating Halloween, and more
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1 If a trick-or-treater dives into your candy bowl with both hands, grabbing as many treats as they can...

Remember: You control the bowl. If you let kids grab from it without perceived limits, some 10-year-old may abscond with half your Skittles. Make eye contact with each child and engage in brief conversation ("What scary green makeup you're wearing!") before you place a piece of chocolate or two in her hand or bag. The key: Children should not just take the candy; you should give it to them.

This is especially important if you're trying to celebrate Halloween safely during coronavirus. Some locales are considering canceling trick-or-treating, while others are letting individuals make the call. You can still stay safe (and protect others) while taking part in the festivities by wrapping up individual treats and spacing them out on a stoop or porch so visitors can easily scoop one up without touching the others. If you still want some face time, wear a mask, use hand sanitizer between groups, and distribute candy from your bowl—it's best to not allow any other hands in the candy bowl.

2 If a trick-or-treater scoffs at your candy offerings...

Remind them of their manners by saying, "I don't think a real superhero [or whatever they're dressed as] would sneer at a kind gesture. Or a licorice twist, for that matter."

3 If a trick-or-treater looks a little old to be asking for candy...

How old is too old for trick-or-treating? There's no law. Some people get miffed when they see anyone past the age of 13 going door-to-door. But you shouldn't refuse to serve trick-or-treating teens. Go ahead and give them some candy. Think of it like this: By indulging in this holiday, they're holding on to their childhood for one more year. (Well, that or they just want sugar.) One way or another, is it such a big deal to dole out a few Smarties in their direction?

4 If a trick-or-treater asks for a donation to a cause...

It's laudable that some pint-size Halloween fans are concerned about more than just scoring loot for themselves, so be sure to encourage their altruism. Offer what you can—even a quarter or two is fine—and tell them, "Thanks for doing this. I'm sure the charity is appreciative of any help. But it's especially gratifying to see young people show such compassion for the needs of others."

If it's a cause you don't believe in—some parents will use adorable children to further their political opinions—hold your tongue and kindly offer a piece of candy instead.

5 If visitors are festooning your front lawn with candy wrappers...

Let's start with the litter problem. Although kids should not use your lawn as a trash can, some of them will do so anyway. Rather than holler at every careless child, place a small trash can for wrappers next to your front stoop and call it a night.

6 If a late-running visitor rings your doorbell after you've turned off the porch light...

This one is simple: No light means no candy. Don't answer the door. If you have leftover Halloween candy, all the better—you can have a sweet treat in the morning.

7 If your plans involve attending a party where others will be wearing costumes (and you're not the costume type)...

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. (See these easy Halloween costumes for proof.) 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).

8 If your kid wants to trick-or-treat but you just can't...

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 Halloween cocktails 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.