Which doors are you supposed to knock on for Halloween?
November 1, 2016 12:19 PM   Subscribe

When you are trick-or-treating which doors are you supposed to knock on: lights on or lights on and pumpkins/other decorations?

When I was a kid and trick-or-treating I would go to every door that didn't have its lights out and they would have candy. But last night we went to a couple of houses where they were clearly surprised to see people (one guy spent some time rummaging through his house and ended up giving a half-eaten box of chocolates).

My wife (who has never trick-or-treated herself) says that we should only go to houses with decorations which makes sense in that you would have a 100% success rate but at the same time we went to houses where only the lights were on and they were ready for us. Our own house didn't get many visitors even though the lights were on, but we ended up painting our pumpkin this year so it may not have been as visible from the street.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm to Society & Culture (40 answers total)
Light on. Anyone who keeps their lights on on Halloween and is surprised to see trick-or-treaters needs to pay more attention to the calendar.
posted by radioamy at 12:20 PM on November 1, 2016 [72 favorites]

Around here it's lights on. We've even had kids knock on the door after we've run out of candy and turned the lights off, but we just don't answer the door at that point.
posted by telophase at 12:22 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

If porch lights are on and/or there are lit decorations, yer good to go.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:23 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Porch light on. Not house lights.
posted by peep at 12:23 PM on November 1, 2016 [59 favorites]

The rule for us as kids (and the one we reinforced last night) was it was okay to knock only if a porch light was one. Other lights on in the house or decorations don't matter if the porch light isn't on (people may be out of candy or out of the house). Anyone who had a porch light on and was surprised to see trick-or-treaters last night...well, that's on them.
posted by LKWorking at 12:23 PM on November 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

Anecdata of one: I don't decorate but I do buy candy (for the trick-or-treaters, I swear) and keep the porch light on so they'll know they can ring our bell. (Eastern Mass.)
posted by dywypi at 12:24 PM on November 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

Porch lights on is usually enough. My neighborhood growing up had an HOA that was *very* strict about "appropriate" decorations [my mom looooves pissing them off with her thematic windsocks], so even places without decorations who didn't want to deal with HOA drama still had candy for the neighborhood kids.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 12:25 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's been front/porch lights on since I was a kid but I wouldn't be surprised if it eventually transitioned to "porch lights on and pumpkins" or "lights on with special QR code on stoop."

I do recall once or twice as a kid surprising someone who had their lights on. Usually it was an older person who probably didn't realize it was Halloween. Even the police safety officer who would visit our school just said "lights on."
posted by bondcliff at 12:25 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Massachusetts checking in. Always just lights on.

When my mom was a kid in the 30's it was every house. They carried wax and chalk for their trick. You wrote on their windows in wax or scribbled on the walk with chalk.
posted by ReluctantViking at 12:25 PM on November 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

You only visit houses that have porch/door lights on. Can be with or without decorations. If the porch light is off but there's pumpkins still lit, you don't trick or treat there - they're probably out of candy but still want to be festive.
posted by INFJ at 12:26 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Porch light or large number of lit decorations (ie: jack o lanterns, decorative lights, etc) which look better in the dark.
posted by anastasiav at 12:26 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nth'ing "porch lights on". Decorations are a nice bonus if you want to make it more obvious next year (even just a few paper pumpkins visible from the street), but our (suburban Detroit) rule is very much "porch lights on, ring the bell".
posted by Etrigan at 12:31 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think this is partly a neighborhood thing. The house I grew up in, we didn't get trick-or-treaters, maybe two every couple years. It was at the top of a hill, and more significantly, it wasn't a trick-or-treat neighborhood. We would go to another neighborhood for that. And everyone just sort of knew that, so nobody made any particular effort to set their lights accordingly.
posted by zachlipton at 12:35 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I live in a condo complex, and the complex distributes pumpkin signs for people to put up if they're participating, but in the absence of something organized like that, I think lights on is the recognized symbol. Lots of people don't decorate for Halloween, but still give out candy. And someone could decorate and then be out for the evening.

That said, when I was a child in the 60s, we just assumed that everyone was handing out candy and knocked on every door whether they had the lights on or not. People who weren't participating just didn't answer (though we could hear them inside).
posted by FencingGal at 12:36 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

In the part of England where I live it tends to be lights & decorations (and possibly knowing where other parents/kids live and planning ahead). We had lights on but no decorations last night and we got zero people knocking.
posted by terretu at 12:39 PM on November 1, 2016

Porch light on. Now that I think of it, though, I only had two sets of trick-or-treaters with my porch light on last night; maybe I should have signalled more aggressively. (Boston area.)
posted by mskyle at 12:40 PM on November 1, 2016

Porch light = open for trick or treating in our neighborhood.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:47 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

No lights is a definite no but otherwise lights on, decorations optional is fair game. I don't feel the need to hide out on Halloween; if we run out of candy or are just busy doing stuff, we just won't answer. We know it Halloween, its not a problem.
posted by florencetnoa at 12:49 PM on November 1, 2016

In Halloween Town USA (Salem, MA) I noticed a behavior last night while out with my son - there are so many trick or treaters and so many houses that houses with porch lights on would often be ignored in favor of those that have people sitting out on the stoop or in the driveway. This is obviously weather dependent, but with so many high candy targets, it was more efficient to skip the knocking and waiting for the door aspect and just move on to the next house.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:49 PM on November 1, 2016

I grew up trick or treating. It was lights on but people didn't really decorate other than a jack-o-lanterns. I owned a house for a number of years and the houses on the street that didn't participate had their lights off (including people who would have outdoor lights every other day of the year). I turned the outside lights off once I ran out of candy.

I live in a condo complex and we had ribbons to attach to the door this year. I carved a pumpkin, too, because little kids in costumes are too freakin' cute and and I wanted to make sure they knew I was ready.

posted by TORunner at 12:50 PM on November 1, 2016

Porch or door light on. I got very few this year and imagine the surprise of the last one at about 8:00pm when I gave them about 25 candies. I know they will be back next year.
posted by AugustWest at 1:00 PM on November 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

My neighborhood goes all out for Halloween so it's any combination of porch lights and jack-o-lanterns, but mostly people just straight up sit outside in their driveways or on their porches with lawn chairs and giant buckets of candy, if the weather is at all nice. In inclement weather it's just porch lights and/or jack-o-lanterns.

Pretty much anywhere I've ever lived, though, if your porch light is on during trick or treating hours, that means you have candy. Turn it off until the hours are over if you don't have anything to give out.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:02 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Porch lights on. I also had a little Halloween decoration on my door, although it was a black-and-purple witch, so it's not like it was that visible from the street. We got about the same number of visitors that we had last year, which was maybe ...5. We just don't live in a high traffic neighborhood for Trick-or-Treat, alas.

Next year, I'm gonna buy like a dozen full-sized candy bars to toss at any gremlins that dare to stop by my house. That'll impress them, for sure.
posted by PearlRose at 1:03 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lights on or off, decorations or not, I feel like this is ignoring an essential point: if someone comes to the door and is surprised to see trick-or-treaters, don't hang around awkwardly while they try to find something to give out. Just remind them that they might want to turn off their lights, say good night and make your children leave. Don't put a stranger in the position of having to upset your children-- take control of the situation yourself. It's surely an innocent mistake-- maybe the neighbor forgot it was Halloween, or doesn't know about trick-or-treating.
posted by acidic at 1:07 PM on November 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

Porch light on. Philly.
posted by fixedgear at 1:40 PM on November 1, 2016

UK here: trick or treating is still a foreign custom regarded with suspicion, so only two pairs of children knocked on my door last night. I carved a pumpkin and put it in the front window to signal that we were participating in this custom. Nobody who wasn't open to it would have a pumpkin in the window. There is no porch light, b/c no porch.
posted by tel3path at 1:44 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nobody who wasn't open to it would have a pumpkin in the window.

I took my kid out in the UK for the first time, and worked off this principle. About 10% of houses had a pumpkin outside - we knocked on all of those and they all had candy ready.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:54 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I decorate a little, don't do candy (though have some just in case candy around) don't leave the porch light on. I have dogs that are too stressed by all the doorbellringing so it's easier that way.

The porch light is the international signal of "here be candy" (if by international you mean Northern Indiana). As an Aussie that moved to the USA, that was explained to me several years ago at my first Halloween when someone knocked at my door. I didn't have candy they smiled & apologized & left to go next door.

In Australia my mother had some Halloween decorations out I had sent her years ago. She got 2 visitors and had candy ready, but they don't do the porch light rule there. She's hoping Halloween takes off as she thinks it's fun.
posted by wwax at 1:59 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Porch/stoop/front door light in Arkansas and California, too. That said, since I knew we'd be gone for most of the prime trick-or-treating time (SOB!), I didn't decorate.
posted by wintersweet at 2:21 PM on November 1, 2016

Porch light on.

Although in our neighborhood, everyone just sits out on the stoop or has a firepit in the driveway and gives the candy out in the front yard. Then again, St. Louis is weird and the kids have to tell jokes to get candy, so YMMV.

This year we had a few neighbors who ran out of candy early, they just put their candy bowl out upside down on the walk up to their porch. Most of the kids sorted it out pretty quickly. Of course, the adults still stopped by for a beer and to say hi.
posted by teleri025 at 2:29 PM on November 1, 2016

In the Baltimore area, porch lights on is the signal that a house is open for trick-or-treating. If the porch light is not on do not knock, even if there are interior lights on or decorations present.
posted by AliceBlue at 2:46 PM on November 1, 2016

Porch light on - Philadelphia.

It's Impossible to see our porch light from the street so we put a lit pumpkin/fog machine on our driveway so people would know we were giving out candy. When we shut down at 9pm we put away the pumpkin and turned off our porch light.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 2:49 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Grew up in Toronto, and the rule was lit jack-o-lantern and/or other decorations.

I've never been trick-or-treating in MN, but I always put out at least a jack-o-lantern when we are handing out candy.

I was surprised one year by a knock from a neighbor family when we had inside lights on, but no outside lights on, and certainly no pumpkin. So now when we don't have candy (like yesterday), we go into air-raid blackout mode (at least from the front of the house) until 9pm-ish (this is easy enough to do in our house so I don't mind it).

I think that if decorations aren't really done in your neighborhood, the porch light should be a reasonable indicator. From the point of view of the residents, it should be enough to leave the porch light off for a few hours -- you shouldn't be expecting people to pretend that they aren't home.

From the point of view of the trick-or-treaters, the porch light indicates that the people are at least expecting visitors. If you live in a house and you really are expecting visitors on Hallowe'en, you should probably have enough candy to share, TBH.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:50 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Porch light on. Memphis, TN.
posted by raisingsand at 3:07 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Porch/front door light on in KY. Last night the first kid was a little away and was apparently looking down the street, because he suddenly yelled "PORCH LIGHT!" and came running up. However, my neighborhood gets a pretty constant stampede of kids so those of us giving out candy just stay outside once it starts anyway and no one ever actually knocks.
posted by dilettante at 3:29 PM on November 1, 2016

Porch light on when I was growing up in suburban neighborhoods.

In San Francisco the rule seems to be people sitting outside - lots of long staircases up to front doors, multiunit buildings, and nice weather. Our porch light was on after we ran out of candy and went inside (neighbor controls the switch) and no one even rang the doorbell.
posted by asphericalcow at 8:37 PM on November 1, 2016

Data point: in my condo complex, we don't have any control over our front lights, they are all on, and two steps does not a porch make. Never had any trick or treaters. This year some parents got together and taped a leaflet to everyone's door, and homeowners should turn the leaflet over to show a "trick or treat" picture if they wanted kids to knock. (If the leaflet was not flipped over then the homeowner didn't even look at the leaflet)
posted by meowzilla at 8:58 PM on November 1, 2016

Heh, basically any lights on that were bright enough to see from the street and/or decorations up always made a house fair game to us as kids here in St. Louis. But we were particularly voracious/hopeful/sugar-starved trick-or-treaters, and I always loved a challenge and/or the fact that Halloween changed the rules to let you knock on anyone's door after dark. Currently, porch lights on and/or visibly lit-up decorations in front of a semidark house seems to be standard. In my neighborhood, though, we only got one lone little ninja trick-or-treating this year, sadly.
posted by limeonaire at 9:04 PM on November 1, 2016

Avoidance indicators: No sound from inside house or near entrance. Lights off inside, on porch, on walkway and ideally in the street. From ten yards, no visible forms in windows or in entrance area. Vague forms lurking inside residence and/or around entrance while trying to sneak a theoretical smoke ambiguous and undetermined and should be avoided just in case. From 100 yards, no light, infrared or motion-tracking triggers of any kind.
posted by christopherious at 10:58 PM on November 1, 2016

Wait, those might have been defensive strategies. I may have mixed up my lists.
posted by christopherious at 11:05 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

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