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13 Halloween Etiquette Tips From One Geek to Another

Posted on October 20, 2009 by JessHartley

Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year over at “One Geek to Another”, and so I was thrilled when the great folks at Flames Rising asked me to do a guest blog on etiquette for the spooky holiday this month! From my desk to yours, here’s 13 ways to have an awesome (and polite!) Halloween!

1. Be a Good Ghoul-guest! – If you’re invited to a Halloween party, regardless of the age group, bring a little something for the host. Flowers in a Halloween arrangement are always appropriate, as are small gift baskets (especially things the host can save for after the party!) Bringing something to share at the party can also be fun!

For family or kid’s parties, Halloween themed treats (especially non-sugary ones, to help counterbalance the traditional candy offerings) can make a great gift! Do a web search for “Halloween recipes” to find a plethora of offerings, many which are very easy to put together, like Mummy Fingers made out of tortilla wrapped sausages (complete with bloody catsup dipping sauce!) or Mini-Cthulus made from cut hot dogs speared with uncooked spaghetti and then boiled.

For a grownup party, consider bringing a nice bottle of wine. Whether it’s opened for the celebration or enjoyed later, wine always makes a great gift. Look for something with a suitably autumnal theme on the bottle, or go for a ghoulish option like Vampire Vineyard’s selection of nine different themed wines. Other options include Armida Winery’s “Poizin”, a Zinfandel that comes in its own etched coffin-box, or “Cassillero del Diablo”, a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Chilean vineyard, Concha Y Toro.

2. Use Good Judgment (and Taste) – Many workplaces or schools encourage folks to dress up on or around Halloween. Some costumes, however, are really not suited for school attendance, work parties or on-the-job costume events.

Overtly sexual or graphically violent costumes may make your co-workers or clients uncomfortable in a bad way. Likewise, dashing into the grocery store in that “Do-Me-Now Barbie” or “Eviscerated Santa” costume might bring you into contact with children, bosses or other folks who aren’t really your target audience. Save the gut-spilling, breast-baring stuff for adult-only parties, where they can be truly appreciated.

Some costumes are never appropriate. Think twice before dressing up as something that makes fun of others, be it based on race, religion or other criteria.

3. Think about Tricks – Pulling pranks is as much a part of traditional Halloween as gathering treats is, but there are degrees with everything. While I wouldn’t ever actually encourage folks to pull Halloween pranks, I also realize that for those who are determined to play pranks, me saying not to won’t stop them. What I will say, however is that tricks which cause permanent damage to property, or put others in danger are not only not okay, they’re illegal.

If you MUST prank, limit your tricks to things which don’t hurt anyone or anything, and which can be cleaned up with soap and water and a bit of elbow grease. Broken windows, damaged paint jobs or physical injuries are not just mean (and potentially could get you arrested!) they show a decided lack of finesse and intellect. Anyone can key a car or throw a rock – Do some research, make some plans, and stage something amazing (and non-dangerous!) if you’re going to do tricks rather than treats!

Oh, and as a related aside? Don’t steal or smash Jack-o-Lanterns. As the mom who has had to deal with many years of post-Halloween tears, I can tell you honestly, you’re likely making little kids cry if you do. Carving pumpkins is a popular holiday pastime for families and kids get strangely attached to their little squash-buddies. Finding them scattered in the street in chunks ranks just below seeing a family pet as road-kill for a kindergartener. Don’t do it. It’s just mean.

4. Don’t Scare the Little Ones Too Badly! – If you’ve got a really creepy costume to answer the door, or you decorate your house from sidewalk to front porch in graveyard chic – remember that what can be delightfully frightening to older kids and adults can terrify toddlers and young kids. Before jumping out of bushes, screaming when you open doors or leaping out of fake coffins at Trick-or-Treaters, take a quick glance to make sure they’re of an appropriate age-group to enjoy such a scare.

Save the best frights for those who can really appreciate them. You’ll have more fun, and the parents of the little kids will be grateful. Having to take home a hysterical Trick-or-Treater who has been scared witless on their first time out is no fun for anyone.

5. Don’t be “That House”. – If you’re going to give out goodies to Trick-or-Treaters, buy individually wrapped treats. Save homemade goodies, gift bags with unwrapped treats or fresh fruit as presents for the folks you know (neighbors, friends’ children, church parties) rather than the folks who are coming to your door Trick-or-Treating.

There are definitely times when baked-from-scratch cookies and homemade popcorn balls trump store-bought treats, but when you’re giving them out to strangers, stick with commercially-purchased goods.

If you’re uncomfortable giving away candy but you want to provide treats to your local ghouls and goblins, try non-edible goodies: pencils, super-balls, Halloween themed rings or glow-sticks. These can be purchased in-bulk from dollar or party supply stores or online through party favor supply houses, and make a nice non-sugary (but still safe for strangers) alternative to candy.

6. Be Respectful. – Not everyone celebrates the holiday, or celebrates it in the same way you do. For many folks, it is purely a secular (non-religious) holiday – a time to dress up and party, to give (or get) candy, to engage in a little spookiness for no reason other than to have fun.

It can also mean more, however. For some folks, Halloween is a traditional religious holiday, marking the changing of the seasons or the “dying” of the year. They may call it by its Celtic name – “Samhain” (pronounced “SOW-ehn”) and see it as a time when the barrier between the world of the living and the world of the dead is especially thin. It may be a time to remember their loved ones who have died in the last year, or to ask for wisdom or insight from their ancestors.

In some Christian traditions, All Saints (or All Holies or All Hallows) Day (November 1st) was a day to celebrate all of the saints that the Church had recognized and all who might have been recognized by God but not yet identified by the Church. Halloween (All Hallowed Eve) was (and sometimes still is) a time to gather and celebrate the victory of the saints over evil, or the victory of Jesus over death.

In modern society, some folks have attempted to condemn all forms of Halloween celebration as devil worship or being tied to evil origins. While this simply is not true, it is, of course, their own right to not celebrate it as they see fit.

Regardless of what Halloween may or may not mean to you, be respectful of the validity of its significance to others. One event can have different meanings for different people and a live-and-let live attitude is the most polite one to have when it comes to matters of faith, worship and belief. Celebrate (or don’t) as suits your own beliefs and preferences, and give others the space to do the same.

7. Lights Out! – Every kid knows that the porch light on means a house is fair game for Trick-Or-Treating on Halloween night. But sometimes lit decorations and dark houses or porch lights that are left on when no one is home can lead to confusion, frustration – and wasted time waiting for someone to answer the door which could be better spent gathering more holiday loot!

If you’re in for the evening, but out of candy (or choosing not to partake in the holiday give-away) pull your curtains, turn off exterior lights and try to keep the windows that are visible from the street as dark as possible.

If you’re going to bed or leaving for the evening, consider bringing in (or turning off) lit holiday decorations on Halloween night. As well, leave the house dark and the porch light off as a courtesy to the little ghosts and goblins. Bring a flash light with you when you leave, to light your way back into the house though! Emergency rooms are not the kind of Halloween tricks that anyone enjoys!

8. Lights On! – The reverse is, of course, also true! If you are encouraging Trick-or-Treaters, be sure to leave your porch light on, along with whatever other exterior lighting you can muster. Jack-o-lanterns and other spooky illuminated decorations that would look best in the dark can be arranged in windows, shadowy spots of the yard or far corners of porches, but no amount of atmosphere is worth a preventable injury to your guests. Be especially careful about removing or highlighting any dangerous bits of terrain between the sidewalk and your front door.

9. Safety First! – Jack-o-lanterns, luminarias and candle light are all awesome for setting a spooky mood, but using open flame is an invitation to disaster around dangling costume sleeves, long hems and flammable accessories! Considering using battery-powered tealights or plug-in light-strings for both exterior and interior decorations if you’re going to be having company for the holiday.

As well, if you or your guests are going to be dancing, walking or engaging in other physical activities in costume, think about lighting, especially on stairs or rough terrain where folks could trip and hurt themselves.

10. Trick-or-Treating 101 – Parents and chaperones, be advised. While the basics of Trick-or-Treating seem simple, even here, there is protocol to be observed. Only approach houses with porch lights on (or other clear indications that the house is participating in that evening’s festivities.)

Knock or ring the bell no more than twice (waiting 30-45 seconds between each). If the door isn’t answered within a minute to a minute and a half despite the porch light being on, assume you’ve gotten one of those folks who didn’t read Rule 7 (above) and go to the next place. Don’t Trick-or-Treat after 9pm. Families with children or older people may well be in bed after that.

Unless the child is too young (or shy) to speak, saying “Trick-or-Treat” before and “Thank You” afterward is the de rigueur price for collecting free candy on Halloween. A “Happy Halloween” afterwards (from both child and parent/chaperone) is an added nicety.

Stay on sidewalks or pathways. Don’t take short cuts through lawns or flowerbeds. Not only could you damage the landscaping, you could hurt yourself.

Teach your child ahead of time to only take one piece of candy from the proffered bowl, unless they are encouraged to take more. Warn them ahead of time that some of the houses may be spooky and that some of the folks they see may be in scary costumes. It may help to walk around before dark and point out the decorations. A graveyard setting may seem less creepy during daylight hours, and that may help them handle it better when encountering it (or similar decorations) at night.

11. Timeless Question – How old is too old to Trick-or-Treat? While the rules very from family to family, if your kid is old enough for their driver’s permit, they’re probably too old for Trick-or-Treating. The exception to this is, if they’re chaperoning younger siblings, in which case, they certainly deserve a bit of free loot themselves, so long as they’re willing to dress up and abide by the rest of the holiday protocol.

If your kids are old enough to Trick-or-Treat (or otherwise wander around) on their own, have a talk with them before that evening about appropriate behavior. Discuss safety (including being extra careful with traffic) and respect (not bullying younger kids or pulling dangerous or harmful pranks). It’s never too early (or too late) to instill good holiday etiquette in your little monsters.

12. Party Time! – Halloween parties are a popular pastime for kids and adults alike. And for some reason, Halloween celebrations seem particularly prone to getting out of hand. Maybe it’s the costumes, and the sense of pseudo-anonymity. Maybe it’s the devilish naughtiness inherent in the holiday. Or maybe it’s because, in many cases, it’s been months since the last major excuse to celebrate. Whatever the reason, something in the air at Halloween makes it tempting to throw caution to the wind and get particularly wild.

For adults, be aware of the dangers of over-indulgence. If you’re hosting a party, be sure to offer lots of non-alcoholic beverages and starchy snacks to help temper your guest’s consumption. Collect keys (or at least check in with folks about their designated driver) and have a back up plan for those folks who might need a bit of help making responsible decisions about transportation or alcohol consumption. Don’t be afraid to cut someone off if they’ve obviously over-indulged. Risking offense is better than arranging a trip to the hospital for alcohol poisoning.

If you’re a guest, be a responsible party-goer. RSVP to let your host know you’ll be attending, and ask if you can bring anything or help in any way with set-up or preparations. At the party, alternate water or juice between alcoholic drinks if you’re going to imbibe, so as not to over-indulge. Be respectful of your host’s property and pick up after yourself during the evening. Check in with your host during the evening, and see if they need any help with refreshments or entertainment. If you’re still there when the party winds down, offer to help clean up.

As parents, be extra aware of where your kids are and what they’re doing on Halloween. If they’re at that age between “need to be chaperoned” and “off on their own”, find out where they’re going and what they’re doing (and with who.) Check to make sure parties are chaperoned and won’t include illegal under-aged drinking or drugs. Offer to help with chaperoning, decorations or refreshments, if another parent is taking on the responsibility of organizing a party that will include your child.

13. Designate a Driver! – While you might be too old to Trick-or-Treat, you’re never too old to have fun on Halloween. Be responsible, however. Drinking and driving is scary business – and not in a fun way. Driving under the influence is always dumb, but on a night where the streets will be filled with kids and teens in costume until the witching hour, it’s a horror story waiting to happen.

If you’re going to a party or celebration where alcohol will be served, think about how you’ll get home safely before you go. Arrange to carpool with a designated driver or look up the number of a local cab company before you go. After you’ve started to indulge is not the right time to make decisions about your ability to drive or to come up with a plan on how to get home safely.

When in doubt – always call a cab, ask for crash space or ask a sober friend to help you get home. Better to pay cab fare or owe a friend a favor, than to lose your license, your car or your life.


Jess Hartley is the author of “One Geek to Another” a weekly column of advice and etiquette for the modern lifestyle. She also writes professionally in the roleplaying game industry. “One Geek to Another” and other examples of Jess’ work can be found at

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5 Responses to “13 Halloween Etiquette Tips From One Geek to Another”

  1. Scott says:

    Nice list. I especially liked your fair treatment of the secular and religious sides of the celebration. Being Catholic we celebrate All Saints Day but like to have the typical Halloween fun. I’ve always been confused about making too big a deal about it (e.g. Fundamentalist rants).

  2. Ash says:

    Thank you for such a wonderful article. Since this year is the first year I’ll be going to a Halloween party, I was looking for an article like this that explains the etiquette and Dos and Don’ts for the party guest. After reading this article, I feel completely prepared and ready to party.

  3. Luann Delashmutt says:

    hahahaha very very Worthwhile and extremely interesting

  4. Amanda says:

    Thanks for the bit on pranking. The spirit of a prank should be fun for all, not just fun for the person pulling the prank.

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