This Halloween, don’t be a jerk

On Halloween, some people end up being really mean to other people, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes on purpose.

Some considerations for avoiding being a jerk:

Not everyone likes to be startled or scared:

  • Scaring people is a major part of Halloween tradition, and it’s ok to like it
  • But it’s also ok not to like it
  • And it’s wrong to scare or startle people who don’t like to be scared
  • Being scared when you don’t want to be is really, really unpleasant
  • It can also be physically or psychologically dangerous for a lot of people.
  • If you know someone doesn’t like to be scared, don’t scare them
  • If you don’t know whether someone likes to be scared, don’t scare them
  • If you think someone likes to be scared and it turns out they don’t, apologize and don’t do it again
  • If scaring people is really really important to you, consider working or volunteering at a haunted house, or making your own haunted house.
  • Scaring is ok, but it needs to be consensual

Don’t wreck people’s stuff:

  • Some people like to smash jack-o-lanterns or other decorations, sometimes at the end of the night
  • This is a mean thing to do, especially because some people, particularly children, get really emotionally attached to their decorations
  • (Especially if they have put a lot of work into creating them)
  • Some people might try to convince you that it’s just the done thing and that it doesn’t really upset anyone, but they’re wrong
  • Breaking people’s stuff is mean
  • If you want to smash pumpkins, get your own pumpkins to smash

Don’t be a jerk to people who don’t participate in trick or treating:

  • Most adults who live in areas in which kids trick or treat are happy to participate
  • It’s a good thing to do, but it’s not something anyone is obligated to do
  • Some adults don’t participate, and that’s ok
  • They might not be able to afford to buy candy
  • They might not be able to get up so much or tolerate constant interaction/doorbell ringing.
  • Halloween might be against their religion
  • They might not want to participate for any number of other reasons
  • That’s a legitimate choice, no matter why they don’t do it
  • Some people punish people who don’t participate by egging or tping their house, or banging out the door over and over.
  • Those are really mean things to do. Don’t do it.
  • Trick or treating requires consent, and it’s not ok to be mean to people who don’t participate

Just, generally speaking – if something would normally be mean, it’s mean on Halloween. If something would normally require consent, it requires consent on Halloween. Don’t be a jerk.

Trick or treating might not be on Halloween

Several people have pointed out that trick or treating isn’t always on Halloween itself.

In some towns, trick or treating always happens on a weekend regardless of when the 31st is.

If your town does that, it will probably be announced through the schools, on the radio, on TV and in the paper. You can also google “[your town] trick or treating”. In some areas the designated time for trick or treating is called Beggars Night.

It’s possible that a few people will show up on Halloween itself, because some people won’t know or will forget.

Halloween when you’re too old for trick or treating and don’t like drunken parties

do you or your followers know of any social acceptable ways for teenagers to celebrate halloween? my friends and i are 18-20, so unfortunately I feel too old to be trick-or-treating, and none of us like to drink or go to those kinds of parties. do you have any ideas? thank you.
 realsocialskills said:
Many people your age like to go to haunted houses around this time of year. In a haunted house, you walk through and look at spooking things and various actors scare you. Most areas have at least a couple of haunted houses. There are also haunted hayrides, which are similar except that they are outdoors and you ride through them rather than walking through them.
Many zoos and museums have Halloween events. Most of them are primarily targeted towards children, but some of them also welcome adults. If there are zoos and museums in your areas, you can find out about their programs on their websites.
Different cities have different events. If you google “[your city] Halloween events” you might find something interesting. Here’s a page of events for Philadelphia.
Some people your age enjoy going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show on Halloween. I don’t really know how to explain what that is or why people like it. But here’s a link to the Wikipedia page, and a fan page that can tell you where to find a showing.
That said, a party is also an option. Parties don’t have to be drunken, large, or crowded. They can be a small group of friends getting together to do something they enjoy.
The party can be a Halloween party just because it is a party and it is on  Halloween. (Maybe with Halloween-related decorations or food). You can also do Halloween-specific things.
   Some things that some people enjoy doing at Halloween parties:
  • Telling ghost stories in the dark
  • Wearing costumes
  • Painting each others’ faces
  • Having a bonfire and roasting marshmallows
  • Carving and lighting jack-o-lanterns
  • Making pumpkin pie, or just eating it
  • Eating other pumpkin-based foods
  • Eating and/or making Halloween-themed cookies (you can buy tubes of dough to slice and cook if you’d like to make cookies but don’t want to do complicated baking)
  • Watching horror movies
  • Watching Halloween-related movies (Nightmare Before Christmas is a good one.) or Halloween episodes of shows you like
 You can also take things you already like and make them Halloween-themed in some way. Eg: If you write stories together, write them about black cats. If you play roleplaying games, play a Halloween scenario. If you like playing Apples to Apples, make a bunch of Halloween-themed cards and add them to your deck.

Things to do on Halloween besides parties

I’m in college and too old to trick-or-treat, but I’m autistic and even if I went to a party I’d be miserable. Since I moved out, I live in a building where I won’t get trick-or-treaters. I don’t know if there’s anything I can do for Halloween this year, do you have any advice?

realsocialskills said:

There are several things you can do on/for Halloween that don’t involve parties or trick or treating. I don’t know what kind of stuff you like, so here are some things:

Pumpkin carving:

  • You can carve pumpkins (most grocery stores in the US sell pumpkins suitable for jack-o-lanterns this time of year)
  • You can use them as decorations, even if there are no trick-or-treaters
  • You can also enter a pumpkin carving contest
  • (There may be some that adults are allowed to enter in your area; there are also some that take place online such as this one.)


  • You can read Halloween fanfic. AO3 has a Halloween tag.
  • You can also write Halloween-related fic or make art.
  • That can be a good way to be part of a community doing Halloween (and can be fun even if it’s not a community thing for you)

Arts and crafts:

  • If you like to make things, you might make some Halloween things
  • Craft stores have a lot of Halloween-related supplies, projects, and suggestions this time of year
  • If you want some ideas, browsing a craft store might help
  • You can also just make orange things, or orange and black things
  • Or things involving ghosts or black cats
  • You can also post pictures of what you make on Tumblr/Pintrest/other places

Sensory activities:

  • If you google “sensory activities” or “sensory play”, you get a lot of instructions for making fun things to stim with
  • Most of them are created by parents or therapists for kids
  • There are a *lot* of holiday-themed sensory activities/play
  • Here is a page with some Halloween suggestions


  • If you like to cook, there are a lot of Halloween recipes. Here’s the Halloween page.
  • You can also make pumpkin pie (or other pumpkin things)
  • If you don’t want to or can’t cook, stores have a lot of Halloween-themed food
  • You can get Halloween candy, or cookies, or cakes, or any number of other things.

Watching movies or TV shows:

  • A lot of shows have Halloween episodes
  • One classic Halloween episode is “It’s the great pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”
  • Halloween episodes aside, some people enjoy watching horror movies on Halloween.
  • There are also some Halloween movies that aren’t horror movies. One excellent one is The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Reading scary/ghost stories:

  • Some people like to read scary stories or ghost stories on Halloween
  • If you like that sort of thing, Project Gutenberg has a ton of stories by Edgar Allen Poe, almost all of which are scary or creepy.
  • (There are also non-scary ghost stories, but I don’t know where to find them offhand).

Hosting a gathering that you’d enjoy:

  • Even if you don’t like parties, you still might like to be around a few other people.
  • Maybe having dinner together
  • Or baking cookies together
  • Or watching a movie

Dealing with confusion in a costume store

Costume stores can be really overwhelming and difficult for some people. Here are some reasons, and some things that can help.

Sensory overload:

  • The most obvious problem is sensory overload
  • Costume stores tend to be loud and have a lot of strange sounds
  • Sometimes costume stores have spooky music or scream tracks, which can be scary as well as physically unpleasant
  • They also usually have bad lighting and often have strobe lights
  • Costume stores also usually crowded with loud people
  • They also might smell weird, especially if there are a lot of masks and makeup

Things that can help with sensory overload in a costume store:

  • Go at an unpopular time of day so it won’t be crowded
  • (And if the lights are a big problem, going during the day might be better than going at night)
  • Carry a stim toy to help manage overload
  • If you get overloaded and disoriented, holding onto something solid like a shelf for a few seconds can help to reorient yourself
  • Wear headphones or earbuds to block out the sounds or make them more tolerable
  • You might need to take a lot of breaks to be able to tolerate the store long enough to successfully buy something. That’s ok
  • If you’re helping someone else get a costume, it’s worth saying explicitly that it’s ok for them to take breaks if they need to
  • If you think they might need a break, it can be good to say that they look overwhelmed and ask if they want to go outside for a minute (but also take no for an answer. Sometimes we’re overloaded *and* want to keep going)


  • Costume stores are temporary, and they change from year to year
  • So you aren’t familiar with the layout, which can be disorienting if you depend on memorization to navigate stores
  • Also, most people don’t buy costumes very often
  • (and aren’t necessarily familiar with what is sold in a costume store, even they buy costumes every year)
  • This can be disorienting if you rely heavily on routine to navigate stores and make purchasing decisions efficiently

Things that can help with unfamiliarity:

  • Think beforehand about what’s available in a costume store (eg: they usually have several different kinds of costumes in bags. They also have masks and wigs and hats. They also have facepaint and accessories.)
  • If you’re helping someone else, talk to them about the different kinds of things that costume stores have before you go
  • Sometimes you can look online to find the layout of the store
  • It might help to walk through the store once or twice together just to see what is there, without trying to make decisions right away
  • (Orienting is hard. Making unfamiliar decisions is hard. Doing both at once can be *really* hard).
  • If you’re planning to help someone else (especially if it’s a child) it can help to visit the costume store first yourself so that you know what is in the store and where the various things are
    (It’s easier to help someone else orient if you are already oriented)
  • You can look online to see which costumes are likely to be available this year
  • (You can also buy costumes online, but that runs the risk of ending up with something that’s not tolerable to wear.)
  • It might be better to buy costumes in a familiar store such as Target rather than an unfamiliar costume store. (That can also help with sensory overload since ordinary stores are less likely to have strobe lights, scream tracks, and extreme crowding)

Difficulty narrowing things down

  • There are a lot of options for costumes. It can be difficult to narrow down options
  • It can be especially difficult to narrow things down if you’re not sure what you want, but you know that you don’t like most of what you’re seeing
  • Or if you are having trouble processing what you’re seeing because of unfamiliarity, overload, or disorientation.

Some things that help with narrowing down options for someone else (I don’t really know any effective way to do this for yourself; there probably is one but I don’t know it):

An example of narrowing things down using categories:

  • You: Do you want to dress as a person or a thing?
  • Them: A person
  • You: A TV/movie character, a job, or something else?
  • Them: TV character
  • You: A superhero, or something else?
  • Them: Batman

Another example:

  • You: Do you want to look at the bag costumes, the makeup, or something else?
  • Them: Makeup
  • (then you walk together to the accessories area and they still look confused)
  • You: Do you want help narrowing it down, or do you just want to think about it?
  • Them: Think about it.
  • Them: I want cat makeup.
  • You: Do you also want a hat?
  • Them: No, a tail.

General advice for helping other people:

  • Don’t panic. It might be hard for someone to pick a costume no matter what you do
  • Helping means that you support them in ways that they welcome and find helpful
  • That doesn’t necessarily mean that buying a costume will be easy or comfortable for them
  • Things can be ok even if they’re hard or uncomfortable
  • If they don’t want to buy a costume in a costume store, that’s ok. If they want to do it even though it’s hard, that’s also ok.

It’s also possible to wear a costume without having to go to a costume store. Some other possibilities might be easier for some people.


Some strategies for wearing costumes

Some people like to buy bagged costumes for costume stores, but that isn’t a good option for everyone.

Some reasons bagged costumes are not a good option for everyone:

  • Bagged costumes are often really expensive
  • They tend to have unpleasant textures, fabrics, smells, and seams
  • It might be hard to find one in your size, especially if you are a woman and don’t want to wear a sexualized costume.
  • You might not find one you like
  • The costume store might be too unpleasant or overloading to tolerate

Luckily, there are other options.

One option (probably the hardest one) is sewing your own.

  • That’s a lot of effort, particularly if you do not have a sewing machine
  • The advantage is that if you go to a fabric store, you can pick a pattern
  • There might be some less-difficult patterns available
  • There are a lot more non-sexual options for costumes in fabric stores than costume stores
  • Also, you can pick the fabric and make sure it’s a texture you like or can at least tolerate

Another option: Making a costume out of a box:

  • If you have a big cardboard box, you can cut out a hole for your head and your arms, then paint it or draw on it
  • The easiest box costume is to go as dice. You just draw the right number of dots on each side (or glue pieces of construction paper).
  • If you google “box costume”, you will get a lot of different options and instructions for box costumes.
  • This is fairly cheap and can be fairly straightforward (it can be complicated too, but it doesn’t have to be)
  • If you use paint, it will be messy. So either make your costume outside or put down newspaper or a tarp first
  • The major downside of box costumes is that they are unwieldy. They make it harder to move, and especially to use your arms. This might be very uncomfortable.

Another thing you can make out of a box or cardboard: flat cardboard costumes:

  • Cut out a piece of cardboard in a shape you like.
  • Some shapes that work well: Hershey’s kiss, star, Easter egg, rainbow
  • (You could probably make a Tardis costume this way too)
  • Decorate the shape you’ve made.
  • Some things that work well as decorations: aluminum foil (works great for a Hershey’s kiss or star costume), markers, colored duct tape, paint, stickers
  • Attach a string to the costume and hang the costume from your neck with ribbon or string. You can either poke holes in the top of the costume and tie on ribbon/string, or tape it on with strong tape (regular scotch tape will not be strong enough to hold it up for long)

Wigs or hats:

  • Buying just a hat/wig can be cheaper and more tolerable than buying and wearing a whole bagged costume
  • You can dress as a clown by putting on a big rainbow wig.
  • It helps to paint your face and/or use a clown nose, but it is not necessary.
  • You can wear a jester hat and go as a jester
  • You can wear a witch’s hat and go as a witch. (Wearing black clothing helps, especially a black skirt. Or, if your hat is not black, clothing can be the same color as the hat)
  • If you wear a crown, you can go as a king/queen. This works especially well when paired with velvet clothing.

Going to a party dressed like one of your friends:

  • Eg: if you usually wear tie-dye and flowing skirts, you could borrow clothes from a friend who dresses conservatively.
  • Make sure that this is ok with the person who you’re dressing like. If you show up in a them costumed and they think you’re making fun of them, it will end badly
  • Be careful about costumes that involve cross dressing. Make sure that you’re not making trans or gender nonconforming people the butt of a joke.
  • Be careful about dressing in clothing associated with an ethnic group or religion other than your own. That usually ends poorly.

Minimalist or pun costumes:

  • Costumes that aren’t really a full outfit, but will look like a costume.
  • If you google “last minute costumes” or “minimalist costumes” you will get a lot of suggestions
  • Eg: holding a sign that says “nudist on strike”.

A fairly easy cat costume

  • Get an old pair of tights to use as a tail.
  • Stuff one leg with newspaper
  • Tie the other leg around your waist to hold the tail on
  • Paint your nose pink and draw cat whiskers on your fac
  • (Preferably with face paint. You can use a marker for this, but it’s likely to be very annoying to get off later. OTOH, (non-toxic) markers might be more tolerable from a sensory perspective)
  • If you like, you can make cat ears out of paper and attach them to a headband or hair clips

Other things that look vaguely costumey:

  • A hat with flashy fake plastic jewelery
  • Spraying or dying your hair a bright unnatural color (this will create a smell though; it’s probably best to check if you can tolerate the smell before putting it on your hair). You can also dye your hair with koolaid if you hair is light.
  • A feather boa
  • Face paint
  • Zombie makeup can be particularly effective. Because you can wear whatever clothes you want and be like “A zombie college student” or wear a tie-dye shirt and be a zombie hippie (might be inadvisable around kids because could be read as a drug reference) or a suit/tie/jacket and be a zombie executive
  • A mask, even without other costume pieces (be aware that in some areas, it is illegal for adults to wear masks, or illegal to wear masks that cover your whole face)
  • A prom dress can look like a costume on Halloween

You can also go to a thrift store and find interesting stuff to wear or build a costume out of. That is usually pretty cheap.

Short version: If you want to wear a costume but don’t want to or can’t go to a costume store, there are other options. Scroll up for some examples.

Trick or treat ettiquite in the US

In most areas in the US, it is traditional for children to go trick-or-treating on the evening of Halloween (October 31st). This means that they put on a costume and go door to door asking for candy.

If you put up Halloween decorations, or you have your porch light on, people will assume that you welcome trick-or-treaters and will be annoyed with you if you don’t give them candy. If you have no Halloween decorations and turn your porch light off, most people will leave you alone (but you will probably get a few obnoxious people trying to demand candy anyway, and possibly a few kids who don’t understand that rule).

When you give out candy at home on Halloween, it’s considered acceptable to wear either a costume or normal clothing. If you wear a costume while giving candy to trick or treaters, make sure that it is not sexually suggestive. (Suggestive costumes are ok at Halloween parties for adults, and are likely to be considered ok on the street, but they’re not ok to wear if you’re interacting with children.)

The expected candy to give out is miniature (“fun-sized”) candy bars or other small, individually-wrapped candly. You can get bags of appropriate Halloween candy at grocery stores, drug stores, and many other kinds of stores before Halloween. Candy you give out needs to be individually wrapped because most children are taught that it is dangerous to accept unwrapped candy. Most children are also taught that it is dangerous to accept homemade treats.

Do not invite trick or treaters inside. Children are taught that it is dangerous to go into a stranger’s house.

(A partial exception: In some communities it is considered acceptable to set up a haunted house in your home and invite trick or treaters to walk through it. Figuring out whether or not this is ok is complicated, and it is easy to get wrong and end up seeming really creepy. It’s the kind of thing that’s only likely to be ok if you’re in a neighborhood where people know each other, you are friends with the parents in the neighborhood, and kids already spend time in your house. Don’t do it if nobody knows you.)

The easiest way to distribute candy is to keep a bowl by your door and to drop a piece into each trick or treater’s treat bag. One piece of candy is enough; people will be pleased if you give more than one piece. Some people let kids pick their candy from a bowl with a variety of candies in it. If you do this, some kids will take more than one piece, and it’s best not to get too upset or confrontational about it. (If you can’t tolerate kids doing that, it’s better to just put the candy in their treat bag yourself, which is considered completely acceptable.)

It’s ok to compliment costumes. It’s considered rude to say anything critical about them. If you can’t tell what someone is dressed as, it can be ok to ask, but you have to be careful about tone. (“Who are you?” or “What are you dressed as?” is more likely to be ok; “What are you supposed to be?” is likely to be heard as insulting, especially if you sound annoyed.)

It’s probably better to err on the side of not calling a kid’s costume cute, because kids who are old enough to understand what cute means are often sensitive about not being perceived as little kids. If you want to compliment a costume, “cool”, “creative”, “pretty”, and “beautiful” are more likely to be appreciated. Or something specific, eg “Wow, I love superheroes!” or “That’s an awesome shade of blue.”

Be careful about assuming gender – some kids dressed as Batman might be girls, and some kids dressed as unicorns might be boys. (Eg “What a lovely Rainbow Dash costume!” is better than “What a lovely girl!”).

Trick or treaters are often accompanied by parents. It’s not considered necessary to give candy to parents. When teenagers take children trick or treating, it’s good to also give candy to the teenagers (especially if they are wearing a costume). It’s no fun to watch younger siblings get candy without getting any yourself.