14 Halloween Etiquette Rules You Didn’t Know You Had to Follow
The ghouls might be gruesome, but your manners shouldn't be.
If you don’t know what a costume is, don’t guess
There’s one thing you don’t want to say about a child’s DIY costume: accidentally guessing their costume wrong. Any child probably thinks their costume is obvious, so hearing someone misinterpret it after working hard to put it together can be crushing, says etiquette expert Thomas P. Farley. Instead, ask the child to tell you about their costume.
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Skip the gruesome decorations at the office
Even if you think bloody, ghoulish decorations are good-natured fun, your coworkers might not want to look at those morbid items all day. Stick with autumnal decorations like pumpkins and fall foliage instead, recommends Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, and founder of The Protocol School of Texas.
Use costumes to your advantage at work
Employees in a stuffy office shouldn’t show up at work in an outrageous costume, but you might be missing an opportunity if you aren’t festive in a more laid-back workplace. “If you do have an office where people aren’t so buttoned up, I would not be the spoil-sport who shows up in business casual,” says Farley. Getting decked out can show you’re a team player who fits in with company culture, he says. If costumes are a no-no in your company, leave a candy bowl by your desk for a sweet surprise.
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Don’t assume everyone shares your sense of humour
A funny costume is always a hit, but never make a joke costume at someone else’s expense. And keep in mind that “offensive” isn’t limited to racial stereotypes or sacrilegious getups. Gottsman has had a client whose coworker dressed up with a “pregnancy belly,” even though another peer had recently experienced a miscarriage. “If you have to ask yourself if it’s offensive, you probably should not wear it,” she says.
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Keep in mind that culture isn’t a costume
One particularly touchy type of costume: cultural appropriation. No matter how costume-like another culture’s outfits seem to you, wearing them as a Halloween costume demeans those traditions, says Sharon Schweitzer, modern manners expert and cross-cultural business consultant. “In many cultures, each stitch, sandal, makeup application, or earring has significant meanings cultivated for distinct and important purposes,” she says. “Portraying this in any manner that lessens that initial significance can be dehumanizing.” Dressing as a public figure is generally OK, but calling a kimono or fake dreadlocks a costume crosses into the offensive.
Remember that in this day and age, nothing is private
Before you choose a costume, ask yourself if you’d want your boss or grandma to see you in it, even if they won’t be at the party. “If you’re going to be photographed (and you will) and the pictures end up on social media (and they will), is there anything that will come back to haunt you?” says Farley. It might be safest to stay away from anything revealing or outlandish.
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Headstone decorations shouldn’t touch a nerve
Fake tombstones are a classic Halloween decoration, but using real names on a headstone could be upsetting, even if it’s tied into the news or celebrity gossip, says Gottsman. Stick with the traditional “R.I.P.” or use a funny epitaph like “Do Not Disturb.”
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Teach your kids a lesson
In manners, that is. Trick-or-treating is exciting and fun, but your kids will also be interacting with tons of adults. Halloween is a great opportunity to teach young children to be gracious (just one piece of candy!), say “thank you,” and chat with adults before running off, says Farley.
Let kids talk about their costumes
Don’t just give out candy and shut the door. Especially if a child has a homemade costume, acknowledge that hard work. “Children hope to be recognized for who they are dressed up as and recognized for the effort they put in,” says Farley. If the parents helped make the costume, they’ll appreciate the compliment too.
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Keep it quiet
Halloween is all about spooks and shrieks, but there’s a time and a place—and the office isn’t it. “The loud candy bowl that screams at you when you reach in for a treat will get old very quickly,” says Gottsman. Cut out the distractions by using a regular bowl and taking the batteries out of any desk decorations that make noise.
Be part of your teen’s costume planning
Parents should stick to their values on Halloween when it comes to their kids’ offensive or revealing outfit choices. “If it’s something you would not let [your child] wear any other time of the year, I would not allow that on Halloween,” says Farley. But you also don’t want to wait until your teen is dressed and ready to leave before finding out they have to switch the costume they’ve been working on, he says. In the weeks leading up to Halloween, chat with your kids about what they’ll be wearing and offer to help them put their costume together. That way, neither of you will be surprised.
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Skip the haunted house
Homemade haunted houses are a fun tradition, but they also pose a risk. “When taking strangers into your home, you don’t know what could possibly happen to you or to them,” says Farley. If you don’t want to give up your annual scare fest, keep your creepiest decorations outside or host a child-free party with a designated haunted room, he suggests.
Be mindful of allergies
Ideally, you should include all trick-or-treaters by handing out candies that kids with nut allergies can still enjoy, says Gottsman. If you do want to hand out Snickers and Peanut M&Ms, she suggests having a second basket with treats that won’t trigger any allergies. Be mindful not just of nuts, but other common allergies like gluten and milk.
Make sure everyone is invited
Plenty of people choose not to celebrate Halloween, whether for religious or personal reasons. Of course, you should never tease anyone or pressure them into festivities they’re not comfortable with, but you also shouldn’t make assumptions about where they draw the line. Extend an invitation to your Halloween party, but stress that you understand if they choose not to attend, says Gottsman. “You just want them to know they are included,” she says.
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