Halloween Etiquette 101

The smartest tips for making sure trick-or-treating doesn't get out of hand

The best part of Halloween is opening my door to an array of hungry, wide-eyed witches, warlocks, and little princesses who are holding out their pumpkin pails hoping for their favorite candy.

When I was growing up, my friends and I couldn’t wait to go door-to-door and collect as much candy as possible. We always smiled and said, “thank you” whenever someone gave us a treat — even if we didn’t like what we were given. (I still don’t like black licorice or candy corn to this day.)

That is how we were brought up.

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But times have changed.

The holiday is losing some of its luster as some kids (and their parents) seem to be more greedy and less grateful. Last year, I encountered quite a few surprises. One child gave me the stink eye when I dropped two mini candy bars into his bag. Apparently, I didn’t give him enough — because he stood there staring at me, waiting in anticipation until I said, “Have a nice evening!” Finally, he turned around without saying a word and went to the next house.

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Then there were the teenagers who were more than six feet tall, dressed like zombies, holding a pillowcase and begging for leftovers.

Finally, there was the parent who asked for candy for his six-month-old baby.

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The holiday is starting to lose its magic; people will do just about anything for a free bag of candy. Here are some tips on proper trick-or-treat practices every family should keep in mind.

1.) Dress up. Whether you are six or 96, wear a costume. It’s that simple. A T-shirt and jeans is not a costume, unless you are dressed up like James Dean. If you don’t have the time to dress up — then don’t bother going out. Get into the spooky spirit and put a little thought into  your child’s costume — and your own. This is part of the fun and makes the night more festive. Besides, people who hand out candy get a thrill out of seeing all the costumes when they open the door.

2.) Don’t be a pest. Knock (don’t pound!) or ring a person’s doorbell only once — then be patient. If the light is on, someone will eventually come to the door to greet you and your little goblins.

Too much sugar can turn even the calmest child into the Tasmanian devil.

3.) Visit once and move on. It’s not good manners to come back to the same house multiple times, even if that family gives out the best candy in the neighborhood. Accept what you’re given and don’t say, “Is that all?” or “Can I have another?” Be grateful for anything you are given. If you truly don’t like something, wait until you get home to dump it — or donate it.

4.) Keep off the grass. By all means, be careful when walking through a person’s yard. That means no trampling over the rose bushes or through the flowerbeds. Use the sidewalks or driveways instead.

5.) Howling and screaming are not allowed. Too much sugar can turn even the calmest child into the Tasmanian devil. It’s OK to have fun, but don’t allow your kids to run through the neighborhood like wild banshees, annoying and disrupting all the neighbors.

6.) Don’t be invisible. A nasty fall can spoil an otherwise frightfully festive evening. Parents, don’t forget to pack a flashlight so you and your posse can see and be seen. Kids can light up the night by wearing colorful glow sticks, shoes that blink when they walk, and reflective clothing.

7.) Speak, don’t grunt. Someone is bound to ask your child: “Who are you?” or “What character are you this evening?” Teach your kids to answer politely and smile when responding.

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8.) Don’t forget the magic words. The words “please” and “thank you” can go a long way, especially when candy is involved. This may seem like common sense — but common sense is not so common anymore. This is Halloween Etiquette 101. Teach your child to be appreciative. And if you are standing at a distance while your child receives the candy, wave and say “thank you,” too.

9.) If you’re old enough to buy your own candy — you’re probably too old to trick-or-treat. Unless you are accompanying your baby brother or sister, give the younger set an opportunity to enjoy the holiday. Find your own party and stay out of mischief.

10.) Know when it’s time to go home. The bewitching hour of 8:00 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. is generally the time to start heading home to inspect and count all your candy. If you want to make the most of the night, start early, before all the candy disappears. One time, a young trick-or-treater showed up at my door at 4:30 p.m. I’m sure by the end of the evening, he had enough candy to feed his family for months.

Halloween etiquette is rather simple and if you observe these tips, you and your child are sure to have a ghoulishly good time.

Jacqueline Whitmore is an international etiquette expert, a bestselling author, and the founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. 

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