Trick-or-Treat Times: When Does Halloween Night Start and End for Kids?

Halloween is the one day it is socially acceptable for children to knock on strangers' doors and ask for candy. However, as is always the case, there are unspoken rules—and a few spoken ones—that people are expected to follow, including what time it's acceptable to knock on a neighbor's door.

On Thursday, kids nationwide will don their favorite costumes and head out with their friends and family for a night of trick-or-treating. It's considered a critical element of Halloween and as a general rule of thumb, trick-or-treating begins once the sun goes down.

This year, across the United States, sunset happens around 5:50 p.m. local time. Although the sun won't set until then, there's no universal rule as to when trick-or-treating starts, so the doorbell may ring before the sun goes down—especially when it comes to some of the youngest monsters and witches.

While it makes sense to wait for people to return home from work and get settled in before demanding candy, the decision of when to stop trick-or-treating is a personal one. Generally, though, it's impolite to bother a stranger for free food after 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.

For some, the length of time they can trick-or-treat isn't dictated by social norms, it's dictated by the law (cue thunder and lightning SFX).

To ensure Halloween is more treats than tricks, some towns, counties and municipalities established curfews for nighttime activities. In areas of New York and New Jersey, for instance, children under the age of 18 had to be indoors between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., depending on the location.

halloween trick or treat times start end
People trick-or-treat in a Brooklyn neighborhood on Halloween night on October 31, 2015, in New York City. Although most places don't have set times for trick-or-treating, it's generally considered acceptable to start close to or after sunset and finish up around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. Spencer Platt/Getty

As long as no other illegal activity is involved, breaking curfew usually won't land kids in handcuffs. Sometimes, they'll just be told to go home, have their parents called to pick them up, be fined or given community service hours.

Like every other day of the year, people can't control the behavior of others, including someone ringing the doorbell. However, people can employ a variety of tactics to eliminate repeatedly answering the door.

For one thing, you can leave a bowl of candy outside the front door. Unless someone in their trick-or-treating group dresses up as Jiminy Cricket, sugar cravings may win out over conscience, so a "take one" sign might be in vain. However, most will get the hint when the bowl is empty and move on to the next house without bothering to ring the doorbell.

Another option is turn off your front house lights. Kids have only a few hours to procure the most candy possible, and when time is of the essence, many won't waste precious seconds ringing the doorbell of a home that looks like no one's inside.

Finally, along with being respectful of others, Halloween is a time to remember to be safe. Once the sun sets, trick-or-treaters should carry flashlights so they can see in the dark and cars can see them. Parents, remind your kids to never go inside a home to get candy.