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Sticky Situation: Ten Halloween Etiquette Guidelines

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Ding dong! Are you ready for the 3,734,401 Canadian trick or a treaters expected to ring your door bell this Wednesday?

Halloween is scary business and its popularity is creepily climbing, with children and adults alike. After Christmas and back to school, it is Canada's third most important retail season.

Canada's candy crazy households plan to spend an average of $75 to provide sweets and shivers to super heroes, princesses or Psy (the Korean rapper of "Gangnam style"). The majority, if not all of their entire budget will be allocated to treats. Their spending also includes dressing their pumpkin, their home, their children, themselves and even their pets.

From coast to coast, on October 31, children five to 14 years old will disregard all the general don'ts of childhood. For this one night a year, kindergartners to young high-schoolers get to: walk in the dark, talk to strangers, stay up late on a school night, scare each other and as a bonus, they get free candy.

As a parent and etiquette expert, I view this annual night of ghosts and ghouls, costumes and candy, as the perfect opportunity to reinforce manners, civility and neighbourly conduct.

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Here are ten guidelines:

1. Your main role is to make sure that your trick-or-treaters are safe and respectful.

Take the time to review the rules with your children before you step out of the door.

  • Respect the Halloween codes. A well-lit home, a jack-o-lantern or Michael Jackson's "Thriller" playing from an iPod's speakers are all signals that there is loot at the end of the walkway. If the porch light is off and it looks like nobody is home, move along to the next Halloween-friendly home.
  • Knock or ring the doorbell, only once. They are expecting you. If no one comes to the door, move on. The homeowner may be dealing with a sticky situation.
  • Use the icebreaker words: "Trick or treat." Follow them up with the magic words: "Please," "Thank You" and "Happy Halloween."
  • Be respectful of people's property. Walk along lit paths. Don't run. Do not step, or discard of candy wrappers, on lawns nor in flower beds.
  • Don't be a greedy grabber. One treat per visitor is usually the norm.
  • Be mindful of younger Halloweeners. Give them ample space to circulate safely in their disguises. Allow them to go first. Don't frighten them.They will be getting enough thrills from decorations and costumes.

2. Do not drop off your children without adult supervision.

If you live in a neighbourhood that does not participate much in the celebration; your neighbours are more mature or homes are scarce, it is OK to send your children to join friends or classmates, in a more festive area. Make sure that there is an adult to supervise the gang. If you are the person accompanying the candy seekers, make sure that you leave out goodies for the witches and warlocks.

3. Travel with your kindness bag.

This is truly your emergency kit masquerading as a kindness bag. To reinforce civility; children that do not display Halloween manners, will have to donate their just received loot to your kindness bag. Your bag also includes a flash light to light the way, a water bottle to quench thirsts, bandages for boo-boos, tissue for runny noses and mini-gloves to warm up fingers.

4. Your main responsibility is a safe candy lane.

Make sure that the path to candy is well-lit and free of harm. Remove, stow away or identify objects, such as: electrical cords, skateboards or sprinkler heads, that could trip costumed trespassers. This also includes keeping puppy and kitty away from the door. Make sure that your decorations are also safe and not too scary; keep your spookiness PG 13.

5. If you are busy with a little one or an ill parent, are not feeling too well yourself, or you simply would prefer not to answer the door, leave treats outside for self-help.

A secured table with a bowl full of candy accompanied by a note that says "Have a safe Halloween" will demonstrate your neighbouring goodwill, while avoiding that you be tagged as a grouch. To make sure that this honour system respects the one treat per child average, prepare individual treat bags. This also works well if you are out and about on chaperon duties. Another option is to ask your neighbor to also hand out your treats. Imagine the kids' delight when they get double treats.

6. Avoid handing out homemade treats.

Parents will not allow their children to eat them. Give individually wrapped candy. Keep your handmade goodies for the office, hosting or as a host(ess) gift.

7. Give to all that are in costume.

There really is not an official cut-off age for Halloween. By natural evolution candy seekers make their last round between 12 and 14 years old. If they are in costume, give them candy too. They just want to celebrate the spirit of the holiday for one last time. Be a good sport and remember that once upon a time you were young too.

8. Keep rolls of quarters handy.

They are perfect to contribute to the Unicef boxes, one or two quarters at a time. They serve as a good alternative for your waistline; if, you are concerned about excess candy after the holiday. Twenty-five cent coins are also a good backup when you run out of candy. It is also acceptable to donate handfuls of pennies for charity collections.

9. When you run out of candy, turn off the lights.

That's the code. There is no official cut-off time but most household become dark between 8 and 9 p.m. Do not hand out apples or unwrapped foods. They will be thrown out.

Pull down the blinds and even put your car in the garage to make your "no candy here" intentions clear. This is also a great night to go to the movies or the restaurants without the usual weekend crowds.

10. Beware of Allergies

One last recommendation: as the godmother of a wonderful young man who has a peanut allergy, for our family the scariest part of Halloween is an anaphylaxis reaction; please choose peanut-free treats.

Happy Halloween!

Have a Sticky Situation yourself, write to julie@etiquettejulie.com and Julie will reply promptly. You can also ask your questions on her Facebook page.