As you work this week, take heart: Halloween is this Saturday. Whether you're staying at home handing lollipops to goblins or dressing in the costume of your dreams for the holiday party, manners should be part of the evening. Dress like a witch and "arrr!" like a pirate, but behave like ladies and gentlemen.
HALLOWEEN ETIQUETTE Q&A:
1. HOW DO YOU SIGNAL TO OTHERS YOU'RE DISTRIBUTING CANDY?
While a gleaming porch light has been the favored nonverbal cue of candy-offering in the past, other signals include a carved and lit pumpkin, a holiday-decorated home, ghoulish music piping from a sound system, or the visible physical presence of a candy-giver. If the weather's too cold to remain outside, I'd recommend keeping the outer-front door pulled back somewhat so a trick-or-treater understands this house is open for business.
2. HOW DO YOU SIGNAL TO OTHERS YOU'RE *NOT* DISTRIBUTING CANDY?
Turn off the porch light. Adopt-for the night, anyway-a "no-show-of-life" exterior so your house is passed by this year. Make your house easy to decode. Pull down the blinds and if possible, park your car in the garage for the evening. Maintain a consistent nonverbal message that communicates there are no Hershey kisses here.
Important addendum: There's no mandate that says one must distribute candy on Halloween, although my students were aghast I'd suggest such blasphemy (and yes, these are college students). Sure, Halloween can be fun and communal. But people can have good reasons for not furnishing candy. Religious beliefs may prohibit distribution, health issues impact energy level, or-very likely in today's economy-people simply don't have money to purchase candy. Respect their position and cheerfully move onto the next house that will satisfy your Snickers or Nerd candy fix.
3. WHAT SHOULD YOU DO OR SAY IF TRICK-OR-TREATERS SAY NOTHING AND JUST HOLD OUT THEIR BAGS?
I'm going to magnanimously assume that the children are shy and forget to say "thank you". To all the parents, teachers, and other caretakers out there, please reinforce the value of basic manners. Halloween can be a great learning opportunity for real-world application of civility. Indeed, even consider a practice role-play run with your own trick-or-treater.
Here's how I can help teach manners to my 5-year old niece (who wants you to know she's dressing as Marie Antoinette for 2009; she fell in love with the wig).
"Caitlyn, when you get to the door, what do you say? That's right: 'Trick or Treat'".
"What do you say when they give you a piece of candy? ‘Thank you', you're absolutely correct."
"How many pieces do you take if they allow you to make your own selection from the candy bowl? Just one is right."
"And what if a neighbor gives you candy you may not like? You got it: ‘Thank you'".
Sometimes when I offer candy and don't receive a "thank you" in response, I'll mention a polite "You're welcome" to the person. Many times, they'll scramble to give a "thank you" in return.
4. WHAT IF SOMEONE'S NOT IN COSTUME OR DISCERNIBLE TYPE OF COSTUME?
I made a faux-pas several Halloweens ago by assuming that a young man dressed in jeans and a t-shirt with his hair slicked back was coming "as is". I was embarrassed to discover, however, that he WAS dressed in costume: He was dressed in 1950's attire. Be wary of assumptions that someone is not necessarily in costume. A group of 18-year olds approaching you for candy may frustrate some, but I've discovered this type of visitor is the exception. I'd still offer a piece of candy (good manners), but perhaps not the "prime" selection (making your point).
5. IS IT OKAY TO BASE THE KIND OF CANDY ON WHETHER YOU KNOW THE TRICK-OR-TREATERS?
I tend to think this is appropriate, as long as you practice discretion. Some parents create special "goodie bags" for neighborhood kids they know well or are friendly with their own children. Indulge those you know well with candy bundles, but not at the cost of excluding the unfamiliar ghost who happened to arrive at your door at the same time.
6. HOW MANY PIECES OF CANDY SHOULD YOU GIVE?
Your call. Certainly at least one piece, although some opt to offer more. You can give several small pieces or one large "Score!" piece. Not everyone can afford to offer handfuls to everybody. And that's okay. And some, who live for Halloween as their favorite all-time holiday, are more like to toss in extra. And that's okay too.
7. WHAT TYPE OF TREATS SHOULD YOU AVOID GIVING?
First things first: Safety is always an issue, so ensure candy is wrapped and secure (and the hands bestowing candy clean, washed, and disinfected).
For the most honest response to this question, I approached my students. Their brows furrowed, they reflected back to their own glory days of trick-or-treating and brainstormed these answers: raisons, apples, real fruit of any kind, and pennies. Fair enough. But here's my take: While not as popular as red licorice or M&M's, these treats help us learn (1) to deal with possible disappointment and (2) to understand that all gifts deserve an expression of appreciation.
8. IS IT OKAY JUST TO LEAVE A BOWL OF CANDY OUT ON THE PORCH?
In all my own days of trick-or-treating, I only saw this once. Someone left a huge plastic pumpkin filled with Doublemint gum on a doorstep with a handwritten sign that said "Please take only one piece." I accommodated. Had I absconded with more, I'm sure my father would have insisted I return the extra bounty. Unfortunately, some people abuse the "honor code" system. A better idea might be to give your candy to a helpful neighbor who will allocate the candy on your behalf.
9. ARE THERE ANY HALLOWEEN-SPECIFIC ETIQUETTE RULES YOU SHOULD FOLLOW WHEN YOU'RE ATTENDING A HALLOWEEN PARTY?
Complimenting costumes is always a nice touch; people enjoy knowing their creative approach to costume-creation has been noticed and enjoyed. And yes. If the party invitation requests that you wear a costume, please accommodate. And hey. Be on time.
Arrive with a host-hostess gift. I had a Halloween party several years ago and invited, among others, our department's graduate students. Many came, but one left a particularly favorable impression on me. I opened my front door to see this student holding a bottle of my favorite wine and a bow-wrapped box of homemade tea cookies from The BonBonerie, a high-end bakery here in Cincinnati. I (sincerely) told her she was welcome in my home anytime. Tea cookies? Visit again, please.
And....while Halloween may not be the most "formal" holiday, it's always appropriate to send a handwritten thank-you note the next day relaying what a grand time you had. Trust me. These small touches ensure you're invited to future events.
10. WHAT ARE SOME GUIDELINES FOR OBSERVING HALLOWEEN AT THE OFFICE?
Company management is responsible for setting guidelines; office employees look to them for direction. Some companies go all-out, having costume contests and baking skeleton-topped cupcakes. Other companies, however, view Halloween as just another work day with standard office rules and expectations in play.
If the office celebrates Halloween and encourages dress-up, select your outfit wisely. It's still the office where business is conducted. Now is not the time to appear as a buxom tavern wench or display a political statement. I know you may be tempted. But save the skin and ideology for places better suited for them. Your work environment? Not that place.
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