From the Mental Album: Halloween Protocol

Given that today is the 31st of October, I thought it would be appropriate to relate a couple of stories from Halloweens past.


When Katherine was 2, we had just perfect weather for trick or treating.  Even after the sun set, it was still in the mid 60s.  We were living in our first house at the time, which, we discovered, was situated in a renowned trick-or-treating neighborhood.  People were shipping in kids by the van-load.  As a result, there were large scares (that’s what you call a group of kids in costume, right?) walking up and down the street, and coming to our house.  Katherine was enthralled.  She spent the entire night running up and down our yard laughing and staring in awe at the costumes.

The next year, CJ and I decided that it would be fun to take her out trick-or-treating.  She went as Dorothy, complete with the ruby slippers and dog in a basket.  She looked adorable.  To try to head off any confrontations on the street, CJ told her that she wasn’t allowed to eat any of the candy until we got back home (we wanted to inspect the candy to make sure it was individually sealed, and none of the seals looked broken).

We started on side of the street.  We made it about four houses down when Katherine announced, “OK, that’s enough.  Let’s go home!”

Me: “Uh, don’t you want to visit a few more houses?”

Katherine: “No, that’s ok.  We can just come back tomorrow night.”

Me: (laughing) “Uh, no, that’s not how this works.  This is a one-night deal.”  That’s rule #1 of the Halloween Protocol.

I ended up talking her into visiting a fifth house, but that was all she could take.  She really, REALLY wanted to eat some candy, and knew she couldn’t until she got back home.


When I got back I found out that CJ had some amusement of her own.  Now, despite what some people believe, there really IS an age where you become too old to go trick or treating.  In my book, that age is around the time you start high school.  This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s close.  Some people can push that age by taking their younger siblings out with them, but that’s when the other portions of the Halloween Protocol kick in.

In addition to only going out on Halloween, at the very least, have the decency to actually get dressed up for the event.  A high school senior who walks up in street clothes and announces “I’m a college student” does NOT qualify as “being in costume”.  (And yes, we’ve gotten one of those before.)

When you knock on someone’s door, have the courtesy to cease any conversations you’re having with your friends, look at the person who answered the door, and actually say with meaning “Trick or Treat!”  Failing to do one or all of these steps is just rude.

Finally, have the manners to say “Thank you” when the transaction has been completed.  Being dressed up as an ogre does not mean you are allowed to skip basic manners.

So, when CJ answers our door and was greeted by a woman who was

  • In her late teens/early 20s
  • Pushing a stroller with a child that wouldn’t have enough teeth yet to work through a Tootsie Roll (we’re sure she was collecting the candy FOR the child, not using the child as cover for her own sweet tooth.  Ahem.)
  • Talking on her cell phone nonstop
  • Casually holding out a bag for what she expected was the inevitable candy

CJ quickly tallied up this woman’s Halloween Protocol report card.

Halloween Protocol: FAIL

CJ was torn.  Should she give the woman a single piece of candy (whereas she had been handing out two or three pieces to each kid previously)?  Or should she scorn her, letting her know that her terribly meager attempt at holiday participation was not going to be rewarded?  I don’t fault CJ for giving in that year and dropping a piece of candy into the bag – in her position I would have done the same.

However, CJ was rewarded a few minutes later when the same woman walked back down our street, angrily announcing to the person on the other end of the call that “this woman refused – actually refused – to give me any candy!  Can you believe it?!”

We loved our neighbors.

In the years since, we’ve used their example as a model.  If you’re breaking protocol, and are showing less than even a half-hearted attempt, you get turned away.  There are plenty of great ways to enjoy Halloween as an adult – handing out candy, running a haunted house, throwing an adult-only party.  Collecting candy from your neighbors is awkward at best.  Just don’t do it.