Time was when Halloween in America was kids' night - an excuse to raid the dress-up box and mother's make-up drawer; to roam the neighborhood in search of popcorn balls and candy apples, homemade cookies and fresh-pressed cider; maybe to play a little trick on the grouch next door. To stay up late.

But those were gentler times, when people weren't afraid to walk the streets after dark or open their doors to strangers, when there were no razor blades in apples, and cult worshipers were only the stuff of story books.Today, Halloween is most likely celebrated at home - with a party and with grownups as much in disguise as the little ones.

"While trick or treating is declining, the amount of party going is increasing rapidly, and with it a rise in sales of decorations and party goods," says Stacy Botwinick, associate managing editor of Playthings, a magazine for the toy industry.

Sales of greeting cards are up, too. The Greeting Card Association predicts some 28 million cards will be sent this Halloween. Even boutique card companies, which limit their production to truly special occasions, are getting into the spirit.

Barbara Miller, a spokeman for Hallmark Cards Inc., predicts that some 50 million Americans will spend some $400 million on costumes and party goods - including goodie bags, but not the goodies.

"Where Halloween decorations used to just mean paper plates, napkins and crepe paper ...," she told Gift Reporter, a trade magazine, "it's become like a mini-Christmas."

There's a myriad of decorations for indoors and out: Ceramic pumpkins and candlesticks and tarantula napkin rings to help create a festive dinner table, giant pumpkin-print plastic bags to be stuffed with autumn leaves and left on the lawn, ornamental lights to string around the front door.

While Freddy Kruger's glove is out there, along with some pretty gruesome rubber masks, this year's costumes generally are more fun than frightening.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are expected to be a favorite in both the ready-made and sewn-at-home categories. For those who don't have a fedora and trench coat hanging around the house, there's Dick Tracy in a package, complete with mask.

Other licensed character costumes available at retail are The Simpsons, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Al and Peg Bundy - from TV's "Married with Children" - and, of course, a host of Disney characters.

For those who are undecided about what they want to be, one company is making doublesided capes - a rags-to-riches Cinderella, a bat that becomes a vampire, frog that turns into a prince and a Red Riding Hood who becomes a wolf.

Among new creations for home sewers is Butterick's Miss America Collection, giving every little girl a chance to fulfill her fantasy of being a beauty queen. Among favorite patterns from Simplicity is Mario, as in Super Mario Brothers of Nintendo game fame.

No matter what you wear or where you go, all Halloweeners should be able to travel safely, assured they won't trip over too-long garments or have their vision limited by ill-fitting masks.

It's also a good idea to add reflective tape to dark costumes. Since many of the materials used for costumes might not be flame retardant, take extra care around jack-o'-lanterns and candles.