The Night Before Halloween: Mischief Night
The night before Halloween, known as Mischief Night (or, depending where you live, Devil’s Night, Gate Night, or Cabbage Night) is generally associated with pranks of an exceedingly childish nature: toilet-papering homes, playing ding-dong-ditch, and egging people’s property, for example.
Today, “celebrating” Mischief Night may seem like little more than an excuse to annoy your neighbors, but its history actually goes back hundreds of years.
Like Halloween itself, Mischief Night has roots in Pagan traditions. As the sabbat known as Samhain (the O.G. Halloween) approaches, it was believed that the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead thinned, allowing spirits to walk among and play tricks on unassuming mortals.
Naturally, people started emulating the mischievous sprites of legend by playing their own pranks on friends and neighbors. (One particularly colorful account from Scotland described young men stealing cabbages to hurl against people’s front doors.)
Samhain isn’t the only U.K.-based tradition that contributed to the Mischief Night we know and celebrate in the U.S. today.
Guy Fawkes Day, observed on November 5 every year, gave us the very name Mischief Night. In a nod to Fawkes’ failed plot to blow up Parliament, people light massive bonfires the night of the 4th. In some British communities, this is simply known as Bonfire Night — after that singular, specific form of mischief.
Although Halloween made it to the U.S. much earlier, the first recorded accounts of stateside Mischief Night pranks are from the 1900s. Small acts of vandalism in the early 20th century would become troubling instances of public harassment, often infused with racism, in the 1950s and ’60s. And, most notably, the Mischief Nights of the 1980s were plagued by a rash of arsons in Detroit.
Nowadays, some communities may declare a curfew or have volunteers help patrol neighborhoods for would-be pranksters, but whole swaths of the country still don’t have a name for the night before Halloween.
If you live in such a region, where you run zero risk of discovering your car has been egged tonight, well, consider that a treat.