Shop windows are full of plastic pumpkins, ghost-shaped chocolates and spooky costumes, which means only one thing - Halloween is just around the corner.
While some of us look forward to handing out sweets to cute, little children dressed up as ghosts, many more of us dread visits from ‘trick or treaters’, who can make Halloween a genuinely scary ordeal.
Although Halloween has long been celebrated in the US, it’s only recently become extremely popular over here.
In America, ‘trick or treat’ is an activity that’s really only for small children who are always accompanied by an adult. It’s not considered in any way threatening or anti-social - in fact it’s a community event with neighbours turning out to appreciate the elaborate costumes.
Unfortunately, it can be a different story in the UK, where some of us fear visits from rowdy teenagers who may cause damage - or at least throw eggs and flour - if we don’t answer the door and hand over some goodies.
What 'you' think about Halloween
When we asked for your thoughts about Halloween on our Facebook page, those of us who enjoy the festivities were in the minority.
- Gloria Muir said: 'I love it. Kids dressed up, big bowl of sweets at the ready. Bring it on.'
- Lynda Radcliffe added: 'I just enjoy seeing all the costumes and funny faces.'
Some even like to join in.
- Eileen Blacklock says: 'It’s good fun. I carve pumpkins to decorate the gateposts on the night.'
- While Jo Turner adds: 'I enjoy dressing up with my grandchildren. I dressed as a witch last year - and I”m 65!'
However, many more of us admit to finding Halloween annoying - or even frightening.
- Susan Smart says: 'It scares me silly. Thank goodness I live in a flat now.'
- Jeanette Hawn doesn't approve, saying: 'It should be banned as it's just begging. My front garden was vandalised because I would not answer the door.'
- And Gillian Cornell says: 'I once had eggs thrown at my house for no reason.'
- Maria Scott adds: “At 85, and with mobility issues, I find it annoying.'
What to expect on Halloween
Unless you live in an isolated area or a block of flats, you’re likely to have a few children or teenagers knocking on your door or ringing your doorbell as part of their Halloween festivities.
While this can interrupt your evening and be rather annoying, it’s worth remembering that most of these children are friendly, are simply having fun, and will simply move onto the next house if you don’t answer the door.
You can reward any trick or treaters with small, bite-sized sweets. Most supermarkets sell large bags of sweets or chocolates for this purpose in the run-up to Halloween, so there’s no need to spend more than a couple of pounds.
- Trick or treaters shouldn’t demand money, and you shouldn’t feel under pressure to hand over anything more than one sweet each.
- Wish your callers a ‘Happy Halloween’ and you’ll find that they will usually go happily on their way.
- Alternatively, you could leave a pumpkin and a basket of treats outside your front door, so that children can help themselves without disturbing you.
If you want to steer clear
If you’d rather not get involved, your local community centre may provide ‘no trick or treat’ notices, which you can display in your window or on your front door. These can usually be downloaded from police websites, too.
In some areas, trick or treaters won’t call unless you display a lit pumpkin outside your door or in your front window - so be sure to do this if you’d like to join in, otherwise keep your curtains closed and you’re unlikely to be bothered.
If you do open your door, take precautions such as using your spy-hole, if you have one, and putting your door-chain on if you’re not sure who is outside.
Let your Neighbourhood Watch coordinator know if you are worried about being alone on Halloween, or ask a neighbour if you can spend the evening with them if you feel very worried. Either way, keep the telephone number of a relative or friend to hand in case you need to phone them.
How to cope with nuisance callers
Some trick or treaters can cause problems, and police are sympathetic towards residents who feel intimidated or distressed.
Pranks that could damage property are viewed as a criminal offence - and it’s also against the law to throw eggs or flour. This is classed as anti-social behaviour, and penalties can include a police visit, an £80 fine, arrest and a criminal record.
It can also incur civil penalties, such as acceptable behaviour contracts, antisocial behaviour orders, tenancy enforcement actions and evictions.
If you notice any suspicious activity during Halloween, call 101 to speak to your local Neighbourhood Policing team.
There will be extra police patrols over the Halloween period, which will target people who cause criminal damage or behave in an anti-social manner.
In an emergency, when a crime is being committed or if there is a risk of injury or serious damage to property, dial 999.
Words: Ceri Roberts