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Mischief Night

Mischief Night is an evening filled with mischief and pranks done to neighbors, mainly carried out by children and teenagers. Steeped in folk tradition, the holiday usually takes place the night before Halloween. In practice, the holiday separates the trick from the treat of trick-or-treating, which is an activity often done on Halloween. Although, in some circumstances, Mischief Night is observed on Halloween night and is combined with trick-or-treating.

There are a wide variety of pranks that regularly accompany the night. Common examples include toilet papering houses and trees, soaping windows, paint throwing, egging and flouring houses and cars, throwing tomatoes, knocking on doors or ringing doorbells and not waiting for an answer, "forking" gardens, tying door handles together or putting treacle on them, setting off fireworks, and smashing pumpkins. Although the pranks are usually innocuous, the police have had to intervene at times because of the destruction of property, such as by the spray-painting of homes and buildings, and even by arson.

The earliest reference to the day dates to 1790 in Oxford, England. At that time, it was held on the day before May Day. The European celebration of the holiday eventually shifted to take place on October 30, the night before Halloween, or on November 4, the night before Guy Fawkes Night. The holiday is still sometimes held on November 4 in England, as well as in Australia and New Zealand. When held on this date, bonfires and fireworks are also part of the celebration.

Newspapers in the United States began referencing Mischief Night in the 1930s and 1940s, meaning it likely started being celebrated in the country around that time. Historians believe that hard times—the Great Depression and the looming threat of world war—may have spurred the holiday forward. Decades later, in the 1980s, during a time of deindustrialization, the day became more violent and destructive, especially in cities like Detroit, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey. In Detroit, in 1984, more than 800 fires were set on the three days prior to Halloween. A curfew was imposed on minors there in 1986, and such curfews were still being implemented almost 30 years later. The holiday is known as Devil's Night in Detroit, and in response to the turbulent celebrations, officials there started Angels' Night in 1995, where thousands of volunteers patrol neighborhoods to help reduce the number of fires (the city later moved beyond the "Angel" moniker). In Camden, there were more than 130 arsons committed on October 30, 1991.

One of the most notable qualities about the holiday is the many names that it goes by, which are favored in distinct geographic areas, but often overlap with each other. The names are sometimes even reflective of pranks that are done in a certain area. "Mischief Night" is prominently used in places such as northern New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania, the area around Philadelphia, New Orleans, Delaware, and parts of New York State. In some other parts of New Jersey, the day is sometimes known as "Cabbage Night." This came about because gardens are raided for rotten cabbage to throw around neighborhoods. "Cabbage Night" is also used in Vermont, Connecticut, Upstate New York, the area around Boston, Western Massachusetts, Newport, Rhode Island; Ontario, Canada; Northern Kentucky, and in parts of Ohio.

Besides Detroit, "Devil's Night" is commonly used around Michigan and the Great Lakes region, as well as in some parts of Canada. Other common names in Canada include "Gate Night" and "Mat Night." "Gate Night" is also used in New Hampshire, the Dakotas, and in parts of Michigan and New York State. People in New York State are also known to call it "Goosey Night," as do some residents of New Jersey. You may hear the name "Moving Night" in Baltimore, Maryland, where porch furniture and other lawn items are moved and exchanged. One other name that is sometimes used in the United States is "Devil's Eve." The day goes by various names outside of North America as well. In Yorkshire, England, it is known as "Mischievous Night," "Miggy Night," "Micky Night," "Tick-Tack Night," "Corn Night" and "Trick Night." In Liverpool, it is known as "Mizzy Night." No matter what the day is called, or where it is celebrated, it is full of mischief, pranks, and tricks.

How to Observe Mischief Night

Find out what the holiday is called in your area, and celebrate the day by participating in pranks in your neighborhood. Conversely, if you are in a community where the celebrations are quite prevalent and bothersome, you could be a visible presence on patrol in your neighborhood tonight. If you wish to stay inside and out of mischief, you could watch one of three films titled Mischief Night.

The following are some common pranks that you could participate in today. Make sure to be respectful while doing so, and be aware of the consequences of your actions:

  • Toilet-papering
  • Window soaping
  • Paint throwing
  • Egging
  • Flouring
  • Tomato throwing
  • Doorbell ditching
  • Garden "forking"
  • Door handle tying
  • Fireworks
  • Pumpkin smashing

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