How to Halloween in Philly: A field guide for hosting trick-or-treaters

It’s the homeowner’s dilemma: Big bars vs. fun size?

Philly is the best city in the entire US to nab Halloween candy when trick-or-treating. At least, that’s what Zillow says in a report released this month.

No, the site didn’t send small Realtors dressed up as Darth Vader and Harley Quinn (Philly’s most-searched costume, per Google) out to knock on doors and actually to see how much sugar they could nab. But compared to other cities, Philadelphia has a huge density of single-family homes with doors that open directly onto the street. Combined with home values, crime rate and share of population under 10 years old, that’s what lofted us into the top spot.

Whether or not it’s a valid way to measure a city’s candy-happiness, No. 1 nods for Philly come few and far between, so we’ll take it. Now we just have to live up to it. Here’s how.

Decorations

There’s a couple distinct ways to set up a look that lets trick-or-treaters know your house is a stop for sweets. And here’s a bonus: Since Christmas stuff is already on full display, many stores have discounted Halloween items.

Half off already in mid-October

Half off already in mid-October

Anna Orso

Make it spooky

The holiday originated as “All Hallows’ Eve,” a religious remembrance of the dead. It’s also been connected to pagan harvest festivals. Hence, ghosts, witches, bats and horror-themed stuff is truly the most appropriate way to decorate your stoop.

Cast shadows

Swapping out your regular porch light for colored bulbs that cast a dark glow is an excellent way to set the scene. Flickering candles in windows are also great for mood, especially if you put silhouettes of creatures in front of them so they cast long shadows (try this on second and third-floor windows, too). Bloodied zombie hands attached to trees or railings and jack-o-lanterns with evil eyes are appropriately freaky trinkets.

Musical cues

For extra points, keep the interior of your front room dark, play creepy music punctuated with screams, and open the door from behind it each time, popping out at the last minute with your bowl of treats.

Or go for cheer

Here’s the thing, though: If you try for a spooky atmosphere or surprise scare and fail to pull it off well, you’re deep in tacky city. And in this country, Halloween’s scary roots have been almost fully buried. Ghosts are cute! Instead, it’s all about candy and dressing up and fun with family (and candy).

Pumpkin fun

Pumpkins are a great starter — remember, it’s decorative gourd season!

Carving jack-o-lanterns is fun (and provides a great snack when you toast and salt the seeds after), but the downside is they start to wilt quickly. Get longer-lasting decorations by painting or doing collage on the outside of the whole squash — googly eyes, spiders, orange flowers, witch hats, etc.

halloween-googlypumpkin
Danya Henninger

Autumnal colors

There’s also the harvest season to take advantage of. Dried corn stalks and strings of autumn leaves can be wrapped around railings and even the horse post in front of your house, if you have one. Also! Candy corn is perfectly colored and is really more suited to using in decor than eating (more on that below). Use small dabs of glue to create patterns along windowsills or bricks, or create a welcome sign with letters made of the little pyramids.

Do the door

Definitely put something on the door itself. A homemade sign saying “Happy Halloween” is an indication that you’re super into the holiday, and gives your own kids something to do. Otherwise, snag a few trinkets at the store (where they’re likely already discounted) and create a bouquet of cheery fall happiness to tape above your knocker.

Candy choice

Almost more important than the look of your house — and to the kids, definitely of more import — is what kind of treats you stock.

Mini vs big

Mini packs of candy were basically invented for Halloween. You can offer more of an assortment that way, and ideally, provoke more smiles and fewer “Mommy, I hate that kind” wails. Then again, there’s a whole movement toward giving out full-size candy bars. They’re prestigious. They make you look like you’re rich and dgaf how much you spent on the neighborhood brats.

Make it modern

Whatever size you pick, do make it modern candy. You might have fond memories of picking Mary Janes out of your teeth or choking as you try to gulp down pasty Necco Wafers, but progress happens. Technology now lets companies morph chemicals into packaged sugar that actually tastes delicious.

Candy corn is the devil

Which brings us to candy corn. It’s pretty, sure. And it’s traditional for the season. But it tastes like nothing if you’re lucky, and like plastic if you’re not. Basically, it’s filler. Mixing it into your assortment says, “I just needed something to fill up the bowl!” Better idea: Incorporate it into the decor, as suggested above.

Don’t DIY

Unless you personally know every single kid that’ll be stopping at your door, probably best to skip the homemade treats. It’s a nice thought, but:

  • Cookies and brownies don’t hold up that well when tossed into a bag and dragged around from house to house.
  • There’s a gazillion allergies out there, and unless you’re a wizard baker who knows how to make something nut-gluten-egg-dairy-free taste good, chances are you’ll run afoul of some.
  • Some parents simply won’t let kids eat things that aren’t pre-packaged. The fear of needles or poison in treats is mostly unfounded, but the specter exists.

Candy ettiquette

Once you’ve decided what kind of treats to get, when should you stock up and how should you dole ’em out?

Early bird gets the gummy worm

If you buy candy early, you’ll have more options and can select the choicest sizes and types. However, you’re also entering in a bargain with the rest of the family to not eat said candy before the night itself. If you’re into willpower battles, you’ve probably scooped up your treats already and placed them in a big bowl that everyone can see. And pine for. (And probably steal from.)

Scoop last-minute discounts

If you’re a last-minute buyer, things aren’t all bad. Beyond relieving your household of early temptation, you’re also likely to score super-steep discounts. Head to any drugstore or supermarket or dollar store on Oct. 30 and you’ll definitely find bags that are at least 50 percent off, if not more.

Add doorbell suspsense

Especially if you’re doing the spooky decor thing, you can provide suspense for the kiddies by making them ring the doorbell. This also gives them license to shout “Trick or treat!” at the top of their lungs.

Sit on the stoop

Alternately, you can sit with the door already open or post up on your steps and wave to kids as they advance. It’s welcoming, plus you get more time to rack your brain for what the costumes might be trying to approximate.

Let ’em grab or hand it out?

For either method, there’s another thing to think about. Do you hold the bowl out for grabbing, risking the possibility that greedy hands will take more than their fair share? Or do you present a couple of pieces of candy to each trick-or-treater yourself, risking the chance that they won’t like what you give? This is a matter of great debate, and we’re not going to try to answer it for you. It makes for good autumn dinner party conversation, at least.

Don’t double dip

Candy is a realm where you really don’t need advice from financial experts. Some “expert” named Brent Shelton from FatWallet is apparently telling parents that a thing they can do is “repurpose some of (your kids’) less-desirable treats later in the night.” Like, take the crap they bring home and then pawn it off on the neighborhood. C’mon now.

Opting out

One last thing to discuss. Some people just aren’t into answering the door 20 times an hour and forcing a smile while trying gamely to figure out what the heck the sparkle-and-paint-covered kid in front of you is supposed to be. If that’s you, there are a few main options.

Go incognito

The first is to shut off all the lights in your house, put on headphones, make sure there’s zero orange stuff on the door, and hunker down for a couple hours.

Put up a false flag

Second is trickier, but kind of makes you look like less of a killjoy. Kind of. It is this: Set out an empty bowl on your stoop with a sign that says “take a couple.” When kids show up, they’ll assume some greedy person already dumped the whole batch in their bag.

Use a robot

Or, you could always put together a Lego robot that hurls candy at kids for you.

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