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A Mischief Night by Any Other Name…

October 30, 2012 |

…will still leave you with toilet paper in your trees. Mischief Night, mostly commonly the night before Halloween, also known as Goosey Night, Goosing Night, Devil’s Night, Hell Night, Cabbage Night, Miggy Night, Gate Night, Mizzy Night, and Egg Nyte, is an annual tradition in parts of the UK, Canada, and of course, the United States. Children and teens will be throwing eggs at houses, playing tricks on their neighbors, and toilet papering everything in sight. So why did the kid down the street smash your pumpkin?

While the exact roots of the night before Halloween customs seem to be not entirely agreed upon, some say that causing mischief has been a part of the Halloween tradition since the very beginning. The most ancient roots of Halloween come from the Celts of Great Britain, who believed that the day before their November 1st New Year harvest was a time when spirits came back to haunt them and to play tricks on them. To ward off ghosts, people started dressing up in scary costumes and lighting bonfires. They also began traditions of playing games and leaving food out on their doorsteps for the ghosts. The Celts called the October 31st – November 1st festivities Samhain.

In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as a time to honor all saints and martyrs, and was dubbed All Saints Day. The ghoulish games of Samhain merged with All Saints Day, and it became a holiday when the dead were honored with parades and people would go door-to-door asking for offerings of food and gifts for the souls of dead friends and relatives thought to visit on that night.

After the Protestant Reformation, much of England stopped the “treating” side of Halloween because it was connected to Catholic saints, and transferred the trickery to the eve of Guy Fawkes Night, a November 5th holiday celebrating the foiling of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to blow up British Parliament. Mischief Night in England is still celebrated on November 4th.

The Irish, Scottish and northern English, meanwhile, kept up much of their Halloween traditions, including the good-natured misbehavior, and brought their ways to North America with the wave of immigration in the 1800s.

Before the 20th century, Halloween mischief in the United States and Canada happened on October 31st and consisted of tipping over outhouses, unhinging farmer’s gates, and throwing eggs at houses. By the 1920s and 30s, however, the celebrations had become more like a rowdy block party, and the acts of vandalism more serious, which historians say was probably instigated by tensions over the Great Depression.

To stop the vandalism, parents and town leaders tried to appease kids with candy, encouraging the forgotten tradition of trick-or-treating in costume in exchange for sweets. This eventually removed the mischief element from the celebrations of October 31st altogether. It was then that, neighborhood by neighborhood, October 30th was designated to pull off pranks.

So, if you happen to wake up Halloween morning to find things have gone awry in your yard, you can consider yourself a part of a centuries-old tradition. Happy Halloween!

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