By Katherine Wright

Trick-or-treating is one of those normalized rituals that doesn’t seem strange until you start really thinking about it. On any other day of the year, you can’t just show up to a random person’s house and ask for loose candy to be put into your plastic, pumpkin-shaped bucket or old pillowcase. But, on Halloween, you’d be crazy not to. 

At its core, trick-or-treating consists of three major components: attire, demand and reward. Each piece is crucial and unavoidable and needs to be carefully calculated to maximize the amount of candy received without stepping on anyone’s toes or raising red flags.   

First and foremost, trick-or-treaters must have a costume. It doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to be cute, but it has to be something. Simply showing up to your neighbor’s house with your everyday clothes and a I-don’t-want-to-be-here attitude is going to severely stifle your chances of scoring lots of candy. 

The second crucial part of trick-or-treating, demand, is centered around a necessary password. In order to show your dedication to the sport, and inform your neighbors that you’re a Halloween insider, you must repeat the secret mantra: “trick or treat.” Only then will your neighbors share their stash of KitKats and Reese’s pumpkins, if you’re lucky. 

Reward, the final piece to the odd tradition we call trick-or-treating, strikes a delicate balance. While all candy will bring excitement to trick-or-treaters—who rely on variety for their candy sorting sessions at the end of the night—you will be met with quiet disappointment if you hand out apples or toothbrushes. On the other hand, you will be met with extreme glee and giddy appreciation if you hand out full-sized candy bars. We came in costume, we stated our demands and we want a reward, so it better be good. 

When you think about trick-or-treating from an outside perspective, dressing up in costume and knocking on your neighbors’ doors suddenly seems radically unacceptable. The mere phrase “trick or treat” implies that children will either accept a treat from you, or play a trick on you – revenge for denying them sugar. 

The seemingly innocent Halloween greeting therefore resembles a threat, disguised by its commonplace use in the community of princesses and Star Wars characters. 

Despite its catchy alliteration, “trick-or-treating” is a normalized action of dressing up in costume, demanding candy and expecting sufficient reward. Kids will stalk lit-up streets, targeting your house as a lucrative source of candy, clogging the streets with foot traffic. “Take one” signs will be unmonitored and ignored and attract children to show up to your front door when you’re not even home. Children will be dressed in a wide variety of costumes, and you will need to make small talk to learn more about their not-always-obvious creations. It is not for the weak of heart. 

Consider yourself warned.