6 rules for a better Halloween

Story highlights

  • Every Halloween, people ignore a few rules that will help keep the holiday happy
  • Costumes don't have to be sexy and should never be based on stereotypes
  • Porch light on? Trick-or-treat! Porch light off? Move along, kids
  • After October 31, don't leave moldy pumpkins on your porch for weeks

(CNN)Trick-or-treating and dressing in costume have been Halloween traditions for a good long time now, but it seems we're still struggling to get it right.

We pass judgment on the ghouls and goblins at our front steps. We bang on the doors of darkened houses. We show up to parties in offensive costumes.
So here are a few Halloween PSAs, six not-so-gentle reminders of how to keep in the holiday spirit alive and sugared up. Read them, memorize them, share them and have your happiest Halloween yet.

    Give goodies to any child who shows up at the door

    Halloween night is not the time to quibble over the quality of trick-or-treaters' costumes or whether some kids are too old to ask for free candy. And don't even bother questioning whether they're from your neighborhood, as if visitors don't deserve your Snickers.
    A letter to Slate's Dear Prudence columnist, Emily Yoffe, said the majority of trick-or-treaters in the advice seeker's wealthy neighborhood appeared to be from poorer areas.
    "It just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services," the letter writer said. "Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?"
    The rules on this are pretty obvious, as Yoffe pointed out: "Stop being callous and miserly and go to Costco, you cheapskate, and get enough candy to fill the bags of the kids who come one day a year to marvel at how the 1% live."

    Too cool for a costume? Don't go to a costume party.

    You don't have to like Halloween. You don't have to welcome trick-or-treaters. You don't have to pretend to enjoy parties where the main courses are caramel apples and candy corn. (More for us!)
    But if you decide to attend your pal's costume party, at least put a modicum of effort into it. It's not hard. Showing up in your work clothes and saying, "I'm an underappreciated ______ (accountant, server, journalist etc.)," just isn't clever.
    If you truly can't be bothered and can't wait till plainclothes parties return next weekend, at least keep the snark to a minimum. Everyone is just trying to have a little fun.

    It's a culture, not a costume

    No blackface, no whiteface, no religious symbols, no American Indian garb ... shall we go on? Every year on Halloween, an insensitive or ignorant few fail miserably in their attempts to be edgy or clever or funny.
    When celebrities do this, it spurs a relentless cycle of online rage, hole-digging defenses and public apologies. It's not any prettier when it happens at your neighborhood Halloween bash, your lighthearted college kegger or in your kids' class party.
    In recent years, students at Ohio University even created a viral campaign to remind their classmates that poking fun at race or ethnicity isn't actually funny. Still, it seems every year that a few miss (or ignore?) the message. Don't be one of them.

    Costumes don't have to be sexy

    Halloween can be the perfect time for adults to show off a little something saucy. If that's your aim, go ahead. But don't do it because it seems easy or like it's the only option. After all, showing up as a barely clothed version of a not-even-kind-of-sexy thing isn't hot. It's ... awkward and, at this point, not surprising -- all the supposedly sexy gerbils, crayons and Girl Scouts of Halloweens past beat you to it.
    Also: Brrr. Isn't it October where you live, you weirdly "sexy" bottle of ketchup?
    If you're feeling like "sexy" costumes are the only thing available, check out the ideas at Take Back Halloween. It offers up costume plans the average adult partygoer can pull off with a stretch of Spandex required.

    On this dark and stormy night, look for the light

    It's a very simple bit of Halloween communication, more powerful than all the trick-or-treating apps and maps out there: the porch light.
    If it's on, feel free to knock at the door or ring the bell once, screech your best "Trick or treat!" (or tell a joke, or whatever your local candy-grabbing custom may be) and gratefully accept whatever treats you're offered.
    If the light is off, move along. And needless to say, don't egg the house.
    Potential candy-givers shouldn't forget this rule, either. You don't want to send packs of Ninja Turtles and "Frozen" princesses away empty-handed -- or end up eating your jumbo-size bag of Smarties by yourself. Or do you?

    Spooky decor expires on November 1

    Unless you're committing to a haunted look all year long, there's a clear expiration date on your Halloween decorations: November 1. (Fine, fine. On years when Halloween falls early in the week, you get a few extra days -- but only through the next weekend. You're welcome.)
    Don't be that neighbor trying to pass off your soggy faux cobwebs as holiday icicles.
    So, take a few minutes this weekend to compost your pumpkins and sweep up your spiders. You might even feel a little behind: Store shelves are already buckling beneath the weight of plastic trees and inflatable snowmen.