Here are 6 hospitable acts we can all do as neighbors.
I know the costumes and over-the-top decorations are not for everyone, but for my kids and me, Halloween is the highlight of our fall. We set up foam tombstones in our yard and stretch “spider webs” across the yews and into the crab tree and along our front porch. Were I made of money, I’d do even more. I’d invest in fog machines, run haunted holograms, and play ghoulish music to spook trick-or-treaters as they approach my house. It’s a happy family tradition for us, and it’s all in good fun.
But my love of decorating the house isn’t only for my personal enjoyment, it’s about something good, wholesome, and ever-needed in today’s world. Truth be told, I transform our otherwise sweet suburban Cape Cod home into a spooky abode because — in my book — it’s a good, neighborly thing to do. It’s one more way my family and I can be part of the local community.
Though kids everywhere will debate me on this, I believe hospitality is the real reason for this season — not the monstrous or even the delicious. In a time and place where we lament the loss of face-to-face contact and communication with those closest to us — our families, our friends, our actual neighbors — we need to show our kids (and each other) what real human interaction and community spirit can feel like.
When else do we get scores of neighborhood children giggling and playing together as they sneak up to our doors? When else are we just all outside at the same time, together? It feels like the one last hurrah before the gloom of November and the deep freeze (for many of us, anyway) of winter: the block party that everyone is invited to, but all you need to do to RSVP is open your front door.
It’s not that we ought to be inviting strangers into our homes, but we can use this special community time to show our neighbors we care. So I wanted to share a few simple ways we can all be spooky-good neighbors:
1. Be home
Though not everyone can make it off the train in time for the start of trick or treating, or you might need to be holding your small child’s hand to be one of those trick or treaters, I’m a big believer in being home, with lights on, for at least some of the evening. If you can duck out of work a couple hours early, do it. If you can arrange for grandma to hang at your house to pass out candy while you’re hitting the streets with your kids, do it.
There’s something so welcoming about a well-lit home, ready to open the door, offer a smile, a compliment on the scariness or beauty of the costume, and a cauldron full of treats. But if you really can’t be there, go out of your way to do something else special for your neighbors. One of our neighbors works for the local middle school. She can’t make it back in time for trick or treating hours, so she calls the neighboring kids down to her office each Halloween to hand them their treat early. It’s kind, neighborly, and a nice moment of connection with those middle schoolers.
2. Be accommodating
When we were kids, the fears around Halloween candy had to do more with urban legends: poisoned popcorn balls and razor blades in apples. Today, the fears around Halloween are more substantial. For kids with nut allergies or gluten-sensitivity, Halloween can be downright dangerous. So why not make the day a little more joyous for those kids? By choosing peanut-, nut-, and gluten-free options (and setting out a teal pumpkin to announce this to your neighbors), you welcome all kids to your door.
In the same vein, especially if you have stairs leading up to your door, be mindful of kids using wheelchairs or crutches and of moms and dads using strollers and wrangling lots of kids. By keeping your shoes on and being ready to go out and deliver candy, you show you care.
3. Put your house on the map
My daughter’s favorite house is affectionately known as “Chainsaw guy’s house.” They go over the top in making their otherwise lovely home and front yard look like something out of your worst nightmare — but in the very best way. My daughter loves Chain Saw Guy because his house becomes a destination, a gathering place for neighborhood kids and families because they provide lots of scares and laughter. Though a yard littered with Halloween gimmicks may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, taking the time to decorate your home — even just a little — shows a certain neighborly spirit.
4. Welcome the teens
Every year I hear people complaining about the high schoolers who come to their door. Sure, it’s a little less cute to see a group of six-foot-tall, deep-voiced young men yelling, Trick or Treat! But you know what? They’re still kids. They still love candy. And they still deserve our love and hospitality. Plus, if they’re outside going door to door with friends rather than playing a video game or getting up to mischief, all the better. So, be of good cheer. Throw in a few extras. It ain’t easy being a teenager these days (or any days).
5. Brush up on kids’ names
Every year at our block party, a wonderfully organized neighbor emails us all an update on our neighborhood directory. It’s community gold. Even though I’ve lived in my neighborhood for nearly 13 years, even the best of us forget a name here and there, right? So if you can, review the names of your neighbors, their kids, and maybe even their dog. Nothing is more welcoming.
6. Mind the dog
Nothing delights dogs more than having guest after guest to greet at the door (our current dog is in this camp). But then there are other dogs — those with a sworn duty to protect their household against costumed invaders at all cost (our late dog was in this camp). Sometimes, for the sake of good hospitality, we do better to sequester an overly excitable or overly protective dog.