What Is Mischief Night?

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Tomorrow is Mischief Night, which may or may not come as a surprise to you depending on where you live. Not everyone in the U.S. has a special name for the night before Halloween, but those who do call it by no shortage of different things. In Detroit, for example, October 30 is called Devil’s Night. In much of the Northeast, the name Cabbage Night is widely used. Elsewhere in the Northeast – mainly, the region’s southernmost coastal areas and the entirety of New Jersey – people know Halloween Eve as Mischief Night. It’s this title that arguably best attests to what happens the night before Halloween.

So then, what exactly does happen on Mischief Night? Read on to learn everything you need to know about Mischief Night.

What is Mischief Night?

Mischief Night takes the notion that Halloween is for kids to the next level. On the night before Halloween, children – typically middle schoolers and early high schoolers – head to their town’s streets at nightfall to conduct all manner of harmless but nevertheless annoying mischief. It’s not a night of violence or danger – it’s an occasion that sees no shortage of trees covered in toilet paper, games of ding-dong-ditch, and egging of property (though this activity can be argued to be more than just an annoyance).

How did Mischief Night come to be?

Like the holiday following it, Mischief Night can be traced back to the pagan era. The pagan religion claimed that as Halloween approached, the barrier between the living world and the afterlife faded. Thus, as Halloween drew closer, pagans would keep an eye out for immortal entities coming to Earth to menace ordinary people. Of course, given human nature, it didn’t take much for said ordinary people to play pranks and pass them off as the work of immortals. This tale actually explains the name “Cabbage Night” since, in Scotland, certain people launched heads of cabbage at their neighbors’ property to give them that immortal spook.

Has Mischief Night always been before Halloween?

Although pagan tradition aligns Mischief Night with Halloween, other Mischief Night-like occasions have occurred at different times of the year. The event widely considered to be the first-ever Mischief Night didn’t precede Halloween in the least – it actually fell before May Day and involved somewhat more serious pranks including trapping people in their homes, flipping bathtubs, and switching shop signs. 

Additionally, other stories of Mischief Night have taken place after Halloween. In some previous years, British people celebrating Guy Fawkes Day (annually on November 5) would disassemble gates that separated private residences from the greater public. 

Are certain activities legal on Mischief Night but not others?

No. Although Mischief Night tradition often veers into the destruction of private property, the law does not condone this behavior on any night of the year. In fact, police often travel the streets in larger numbers on Mischief Night to keep neighborhood kids from causing too much mischief. Additionally, some towns may enforce a curfew for people below a certain age on Mischief Night.

How big a role has Mischief Night played in your life? Sound off in the comments!

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