Mischief Night – also known as Devil’s Night, Cabbage Night, Devil’s Eve, Goosey Night and Gate Night – is a holiday which is celebrated in the United States the day before Halloween on October 30th. It is a holiday in which children, teens, and young adults engage in pranks and harmless vandalism. It is mostly a fun holiday that results in very minor annoyances to people or people having their trees covered in toilet paper. However, there have been instances when the pranks or the vandalism has gotten out of control and has resulted in the loss of property or life.
History of Mischief Night
About 1 in 4 Americans don’t have a name for the day before Halloween. For the other 3 out of 4 people, it is named Mischief Night in most parts of the country, Devil’s Night in Detroit and the Upper Midwest, Cabbage Night in Vermont and New Hampshire and in a number of communities, it is known as Devil’s Eve or Goosey Night. However, not many Americans actually know when this holiday first started.
The roots of Mischief Night can be traced all the way back to the late 18th century in Great Britain. It was first mentioned as an incident that happened at Oxford in 1790, however, the night referred to wasn’t October 30th but was instead, the day before May Day. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the day before May Day was known as Mischief Night in Britain and it was often accompanied by children playing harmless pranks such as stealing or switching shop and road signs and overturning tubs of water. During the late 19th century, Mischief Night in Britain often referred to November 4th – otherwise known as Guy Fawkes Day Eve. This too was a day that was accompanied by the many pranks done by young men and women.
When Mischief Night jumped across the Atlantic and was transformed to the night before Halloween is unclear, however, mentions of it began to pop up in U.S newspapers around the 1930s and the 1940s. These newspaper articles speak of the many pranks done by children and try to separate the day from Halloween – which was transforming from a night of tricks into the more wholesome family tradition of dressing up and going door-to-door to beg for candy. In Boston during the late 1930s, one newspaper article spoke of the pranks and rampant vandalism which traveled all throughout that city on that night. Pranks and vandalism which included setting fires, breaking windows, ringing people’s doorbells and then running away and ringing false alarms.
From around World War II until the late 1970s, Mischief Night was seen mostly as a nuisance that only occasionally required police intervention. However, that quickly changed during the 1980s. During this time in Detroit, it wasn’t a day marked by pranks and minor vandalism but was a night that was marked by violence and arson. By 1984, there were almost a thousand fires in the city and the amount of arson committed in the city kept escalating over the next several years. It got so bad that the media dubbed the night Devil’s Night and by 1986 a curfew was imposed for anyone under the age of 18. Detroit also had to bring in volunteer fire departments from adjoining communities to help them with the arson epidemic. A tradition that continues to this day. Every year, around 40,000 volunteers patrol the streets of Detroit from October 29th through October 31st. These volunteers look for vandals and arsonists and thanks to their efforts, as well as the efforts of the Detroit Police Department, fires have decreased to a more manageable level during this time and Mischief Night has been renamed in Detroit to Angel’s Night.
Devil’s Night is fictionalized in the 1994 film, The Crow. In this film the protagonist and his fiance are killed on Devil’s Night. In 2006 and 2013, there were movies titled Mischief Night released in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Mischief Night Customs & Traditions
While many communities have begun to take back Mischief Night from the pranksters and vandals, traditionally the holiday has been marked by all kinds of foolishness. On this day, children and young adults have been known to smash pumpkins, soap windows, egg houses and cars, toilet paper people’s houses and trees and play ding-dong ditch (ring doorbells and run away). However, most communities, as well as this website, would encourage people to spend the days with their families eating candy and watching scary movies.
In Vermont and New Hampshire, it is known as Cabbage Night because cabbages were thrown against people’s houses on this night. This tradition comes from a Scottish tradition in which young girls would pull cabbages to examine them and try to divine who their husband will be. Of course, once the cabbages have told these young ladies all they could, the only thing left to do with them was to throw the cabbages against someone’s door and run away.