Trick or Treat Etiquette

Sally Brown: Do I get to go trick-or-treating with you, big brother?
Charlie Brown: Sure, Sally.
Sally Brown: Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! How do we do it?
Lucy Van Pelt: All you have to do is walk up to a house, ring the doorbell, and say “tricks or treats.”
Sally Brown: Are you sure it’s legal?
Lucy Van Pelt: Of course it’s legal.
Sally Brown: I wouldn’t want to be accused of taking part in a rumble
~ It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Halloween would be a whole lot more fun if everyone were like Sally Brown and showed some real concern about the proprieties of trick or treating.

I actually started this entry a year ago, but last Halloween my little village just north of New York City was in the throes of Superstorm Sandy’s fury. We were luckier than many of Sandy’s victims in that we only lost electrical power for a number of days. Or maybe it was weeks. In any case, due to an extensive power outage I couldn’t publish my Halloween post last year.

In that entry I started out by reporting that, according to First Lady Michelle Obama, then 14-year-old Malia Obama believed that she was too old for trick or treating. That little nugget of information caught my attention because I agree with Malia. Although trick or treating is still popular among many teenagers, there comes a point when one becomes too old to ring the neighbors’ doorbells and ask for candy.

Further, it’s not cool to call on houses and cause good-hearted people to run out of candy before young children have finished their rounds. After all, candy costs money and not everyone can afford to treat the little ones and teenagers, too. And, it’s thoughtless to inconvenience people by forcing them out of the house to run to the store to replenish their candy stock or, worse, prompting them to stop answering the door for the tots because they’ve run out of treats. It is expected that high school and college students are mature enough to understand the economics involved and empathic enough to be considerate.

Therefore, when you turn 13, you’re better off going to a party or staying in with friends, a huge bowl of popcorn and some great vintage movies like the Halloween series with Jamie Lee Curtis or old Vincent Price horror flicks. Or, even better, you could take turns reading the works of Edgar Allen Poe or Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. For older high school students and those of college age, costume balls are often popular.

On the chance, however, that you might find yourself spending at least part of Halloween day (or night) escorting a young family member, friend or neighbor around, or holding down the fort at home as ghosts, witches, superheroes and the like descend upon your fortress, here are some etiquette tips for both trickers and treaters:

Trickers (those calling on homes for treats in exchange for not tricking) 

  1. Lights On  Generally, you should call on homes only that have their porch lights on. This is the customary signal that a house is ready for and welcoming to trick or treaters. When the light goes off that means that there are no treats left or the occupants are not receiving callers. If apartment buildings are on your radar be sure that the policy or practice of each dwelling is to permit trick or treaters. If there is a doorman or elevator operator, ask politely for permission to ring doorbells.
  2. Dull Roar – While treaters expect a certain amount of noise and commotion on Halloween with all the excitement of young children, there’s no reason for undo screaming, shouting, making undo noise or otherwise disturbing the peace.
  3. Only Ring Twice – Ring or knock once and wait patiently. If no one answers the door after a minute, and if the light is on and it appears that someone is home, ring or knock once more. But that’s it. No leaning on the doorbell or pounding on the door should be permitted. Leave in peace, and no soaping the windows, egging the car or string-spraying the porch! You are trickers in name only!
  4. Hold the Bag – When someone answers the door, the children should hold out their bags and wait politely for the treats. Again, no shouting, shoving, grabbing or demanding. On Halloween, it’s okay to look horrifying, but it’s not okay to act horrifying.
  5. Say Thank You No matter how horrific a character someone is portraying — or bunch of characters that you might be shepherding — everyone should always say, “thank you,” upon departing from each home with his or her loot.

Treaters (those prepared to treat to avoid getting tricked)     

  1. Wrapped Candy Only – Although homemade treats are lovely and some good quality candy comes unwrapped, most parents won’t let their children keep or eat anything that isn’t pre-wrapped. So, don’t waste your money or the treats, or cause the children or their parents angst by failing to follow this time-honored and important convention.
  2. Lights On or Off – If you live in a house, indicate to trick or treaters your participation by leaving a porch light on. And, ensure that your walkway and stairs are well lit and clear so people can see where they’re walking and don’t trip over anything. Apartment dwellers should comply with the practices of their building in allowing trick or treaters.
  3. Don’t Scare The Kids It’s great fun to decorate your entryway or wear a costume to greet trick or treaters. But, don’t go overboard and scare the little ones. You’ll not be thanked for that by parents (or the children), and it might tarnish your reputation.
  4. Control the DogDon’t let your big, shaggy dog – or tiny ferocious pooch – bark, growl or jump at the kids or adult escorts. If your dog is not perfectly behaved, for everyone’s sake it’s best to confine him or her until the last trick or treaters depart.
  5. Say “You’re Welcome”– When the recipients of your treats say “thank you,” be sure to say, “you’re welcome.” You’ll be setting a good example.

Enjoy this popular occasion, and whether you’re a tricker or a treater this Halloween be sure to display frightfully good manners!

Until next time,


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