You may have all heard of 'Halloween Town' and the 'Pumpkin King', Jack Skellington, from the movie 'The Nightmare Before Christmas', but this article is not about that, is it? Or maybe it could have been if the title was: 'How to NOT ruin Christmas and be legally accountable', but this is definitely not the subject for today.
I am also sure you are all aware of the likes of Joker, Pennywise, Dracula, and countless other iconic villains from the film industry. As there is no doubt that these dudes already have troubles with the law... again this blog post is not about them! So for whom is it? You guessed right: it is for you, your gang, and I dare say the Addamses who love Halloween! I bet Morticia and Gomez Addams will find the information below quite useful to control their kids' pranks this year. I mean, who wants to be fined on Halloween... right?
Anyway, as the spookiest day of them all is just around the corner, today's blog post offers a fun, brief insight on the different laws that regulate (either directly or indirectly) Halloween across the globe. In this regard, many countries have imposed regulations to effectively address any form of improper behaviour that is likely to arise during this period while there are some instances where one encounters rules the existence of which may be even questioned. So what are you waiting for? Grab your pumpkin spice latte and join me in this Halloweeny law quest!
Wearing a Halloween mask in public? Nope!
Who would have thought that wearing a mask in public (not the mask we are still using lately to halt the spread of Covid19: that one is still required in many countries and it is illegal not to wear it!) constitutes an offence in certain parts of the world? This is clearly the case in some states in the US, where people are not allowed to go out in public while wearing a mask, from a certain age onwards. For example, in Dublin, Georgia the age limit is 16 years, whereas, in Belleville, Illinois, the age limit is 12 years. Moreover, in the state of New York, it is banned to wear masks in public since the 1800s (but you can wear your mask during a private party!), whereas in some parts of California, to wear a mask one needs to get a licence from the Sherriff! Just imagine that! In any case, I cannot imagine how the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway manages to go around...
Any other dressing up restrictions?
The state of Alabama prohibits anyone to dress up 'fraudulently' as a member of the clergy (e.g. a priest, a nun, etc.) or any other religion for Halloween, as well as on any other day of the year. Anyone who breaches the law faces strict fines including possible imprisonment of up to one year! On the other hand, California may not have such laws, but the law of the state gives discretion to private establishments and shops to ban entry to their premises to anyone wearing a costume. This law is applicable on an 'all year round basis', but one can clearly see its impact during Halloween. So, if you happen to encounter on Halloween night the Sanderson Sisters from Disney's 'Hocus Pocus' in a shop just take your children out of there! And close your ears! Do not let them 'put' their 'spell on you'...! unless you want 'to dance until you die...'
What about Clown costumes?
Clowns have, allegedly, 'starred' in many people's nightmares, as many individuals find them terrifying. Famous films like IT, where the main protagonist is a maniac clown serial killer, are not helping either. To that end, there have been many reports about clowns terrorising people in countries all over the world during Halloween. That is why in many places it is illegal to dress up as a clown. For example, in France, it is illegal during the period of Halloween for anyone to dress up as a clown if they are above the age of 13 years unless that is their job in which case they still require relevant permission from the authorities.
The trend of 'clown attacks' on civilians became more widespread in 2017, as many countries including the UK and the US suffered to a great extent, with the police taking a 'no tolerance policy' towards anyone who attempted to scare or assault a person, and/or vandalise the property of another. And guess what movie was released that year... You guessed correct...! Wait no? Come on! It's IT! The movie about the maniac clown serial killer with the sharp teeth I mentioned above... In any case, my advice is: stay away from any clown holding red balloons on Halloween as well as on any other day of the year!
Rules for trick or treating
In some places, like in Bellville, Missouri, the activity known as 'trick or treat' is only reserved for children, while anyone aged 13-14 years and above is banned from engaging. There is an exception, however, for families where all their members collectively engage in the activity, provided that the parents and their young children form a 'bubble'. Conversely, in Rehoboth, Delaware, trick or treating may have no age limit, but it does have a time limit which requires the activity to take place only between 18:00-20:00, while those who don't respect the strict schedule face fines. The rest of the world does not seem to be restricting trick or treating, unless, of course, a country prohibits celebrating Halloween altogether (e.g. Jordan - look below).
Can celebrating Halloween be illegal?
Surprisingly, celebrating Halloween in Jordan is illegal, since 2014. This translates to the complete ban of the festivity in the country: anyone dressed up for the occasion or attending a Halloween party might face police reaction including arrests. Additionally, celebrating Halloween can also be illegal in Rehoboth, Delaware, but only if the 31st of October is a Sunday! However, the law banning Halloween on Sundays is not absolute. Private celebrations are permitted, but trick or treating and generally going out in public dressed up for the occasion is prohibited when Halloween is on a Sunday! Therefore, if you happen to be in Rehoboth you better be careful as this year's Halloween is the coming Sunday! I guess the Pumpkin King will be on the hide this year...
And some last spooky thoughts...
Surely, some of these laws may sound weird or even absurd but they aim to protect citizens. Although it is hard to imagine how an unregulated Halloween can be a dangerous experience (but there are films that prove otherwise), in many instances, masquerading that conceals one's identity leaves room for improper behaviour. Does 'Squid Game' ring a bell?
Aside from any restrictions, Halloween is a joyful festivity, and the law is here to ensure everyone celebrates safely. From all of us, at Legal Compass, have a spook-tacular, boo-tiful, wooo-nderful, and fang-tastic Halloween!
***This article was originally posted on the 31st of October 2020 and was updated on the 28th of October 2021 to add some extra Halloween references.
10 laws that can spoil your Halloween (Avvostories, 16 October 2019) accessed 30 October 2020
Ellen Atterbury, Weird Halloween laws to make you cackle (Flaherty & Collins, SC, 2019) accessed 27 October 2020
Halloween Laws (The University of Law, 24 October 2018) accessed 27 October 2020
Weird Halloween Laws (Law Depot Blog, 23 October 2019) accessed 28 October 2020