The dos and don'ts of Halloween—Real Simple's etiquette expert weighs in.

By Real Simple
Updated September 18, 2012
Lucas Allen

Q. How do I graciously deal with trick-or-treaters on Halloween?

A. It’s no wonder that All Hallows’ Eve poses a number of etiquette challenges: It is 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, you can avoid some common pitfalls by planning ahead. Here’s how to handle six awkward scenarios with aplomb.

The Wicked Witch of the West dives into your candy bowl with both hands, grabbing as many treats as she can. Threaten to melt her. Kidding! But seriously, 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. The key: Children should not just take the candy; you should give it to them.

Green Lantern turns up his nose at your offerings. Remind him of his manners by saying, “I don’t think a real superhero would sneer at a kind gesture. Or a licorice twist, for that matter.”

Queen Amidala looks 25. 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?

Lady Gaga would like you to make a donation to her cause. It’s laudable that this pint-size pop star is concerned about more than just scoring loot for herself. So be sure to encourage her altruism. Offer her what you can—even a quarter or two is fine—and tell her, “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.”

The Avengers are festooning your front lawn with candy wrappers or (uh-oh) toilet paper. First, 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. However, if you’re getting TP’d (or worse), it’s OK to call the authorities so they can keep other houses from getting hit.

A ghost rings the bell after you’ve turned off the porch light. This one is simple: No light means no candy. Don’t answer the door.

—Michelle Slatalla

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